Middle East

Syria rebels seize Alawite villages in Hama: activists

Rebel fighters run for cover in the majority-Kurdish Sheikh Maqsud district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on April 4, 2013. AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF

BEIRUT: Rebels in Syria have seized control of four deserted Alawite villages in the central province of Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday.

President Bashar al-Assad hails from the Alawite community, which is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, while the rebels are predominantly Sunni Muslims.

"Late on Friday night, the rebels took complete control of Tlaissiyeh, Zoghbe, Shaata and Balil, after the withdrawal of the army following several weeks of fighting," the Observatory said.

"The residents abandoned the villages at the beginning of the fighting," it added.

Elsewhere, the Observatory reported a campaign of arrests in central Damascus, and regime artillery fire at sites in Damascus province, which wounded several people.

North of the capital, in Yabrud district, state media announced that the army had "destroyed bomb-manufacturing facilities and killed terrorists with Saudi, Tunisian, Libyan and Afghan nationalities."

The regime and state media use the term "terrorist" to refer to all those involved in the uprising.

Violence across the country on Friday killed 116 people -- 47 rebels, 44 civilians and 25 soldiers -- according to the Observatory.

The violence comes against the backdrop of renewed international efforts to find a political solution to the conflict, which began with peaceful anti-regime protests in March 2011.

On Wednesday, the so-called Friends of Syria gathering of countries that back the uprising will gather in the Jordanian capital Amman.

And on May 23, the Syrian opposition will meet in Istanbul in Turkey to hold elections and decide whether to attend a peace conference being organised by the United States and Russia.





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