World Bulletin / News Desk
Syrian army and militia troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have pushed back a rebel offensive in the mountain heartlands of his Alawite sect, officials and activists said on Monday, after days of heavy fighting and aerial bombardment.
The assault by rebels on the northern edges of the Alawite mountains overlooking the Mediterranean drove hundreds of Alawite villagers out to the coast and marked a major challenge to Assad's reassertion of power over central Syria.
But the Syrian president, battling a two-year uprising which has descended into a devastating civil war, sent reinforcements to the rugged area of northern Latakia to repel the attack.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said Assad's forces have retaken all the military observation posts which rebels had seized when they launched their offensive two weeks ago, and regained control of nine Alawite villages.
The army was still trying to recapture two villages, the observatory's head Rami Abdelrahman said, adding that heavy fighting continued on Monday.
State news agency SANA said the army had "dealt with the last terrorist groups" in the area and seized their weapons.
Rebels killed 200 people, mostly civilians, and drove hundreds from their villages in the first three days of the assault, activists said. They also shot down a military jet, according to amateur video footage released on Sunday.
At one stage a rebel commander said the rebels had reached within 20 km (12 miles) of Qardaha - Assad's hometown and the burial place of his father Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria with an iron fist for three decades.
In a gesture of support for the rebel fighters, and a sign of the symbolic significance of their advances, the head of the Free Syrian Army was filmed visiting Latakia province last week.
But the army and pro-Assad National Defence Force militia fighters pushed the rebels back, killing many fighters including foreign Arab jihadists who formed part of the al Qaeda-linked brigades on the rebel front line.
A team of United Nations chemical weapons experts arrived in Damascus on Sunday after months of delay and were due to start investigating reports dating back to last December about the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria's civil war.
The government and rebels accuse each other of using chemical weapons, a step which the United States has said would cross a "red line" in the conflict.
Like the broader Syrian war, the issue of chemical weapons has divided world powers. Washington said in June it believed Assad's forces have used them on a small scale, while in July Moscow said rebels fired sarin gas near Aleppo in March.
The U.N. team, including weapons experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, will try to establish only whether chemical weapons including sarin and other toxic nerve agents were used, not who used them.
The team was due to visit three sites in Syria, including Khan al-Assal in the north, but it was not immediately clear when they would make those trips.Güncelleme Tarihi: 19 Ağustos 2013, 15:52