Syria drives rebels from site of alleged killings

February 18, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government troops have regained full control of a village in the central province of Hama after ousting rebels accused of killing dozens of people there, state media said as activists reported army reinforcements in the south on Tuesday.

State news agency SANA said government troops took control of the village of Maan on Monday after destroying the last “hideouts of terrorists, who came into the village and committed a massacre.” Syria refers to rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad as terrorists. The nearly 3-year-old conflict has become increasingly sectarian, pitting Sunni Muslim rebels against Assad’s government that is predominantly Alawite, a sect of Shiite Islam.

Opposition activists have also reported sectarian killings in Maan earlier this month. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 40 people, mostly members of the minority Alawite sect had been killed when hard-line, anti-Assad Islamic fighters overran the village Feb.9.

In southern Syria, the army was reinforcing its positions in an effort to dislodge rebels from the area near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Rami Abdurrahman, the Observatory’s head, said there is heavy fighting in the hilly area just south of Quinetra city, the capital of the province known by the same name. He said the army is bringing more tanks, heavy artillery and troops to the region that has been under control of hard-line Islamic rebel groups for months.

The government’s apparent showdown with the rebels in the south comes a day after Syrian opposition named a news military chief. Brig. Gen. Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir hails from southern Syria and was an army commander in Quinetra until 2012 when defected to the opposition.

The Observatory also reported heavy government shelling of Yabroud, the last rebel-held town near Syria’s border with Lebanon. Yabroud is located in the mountainous Qalamoun region. Government troops, backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters have been on a crushing offensive there since early December, trying to sever a main thoroughfare for rebels from Lebanon.

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