Syrian regime launches offensive to retake Alawite villages
The towns of Zaraa and Hirbnafsa in Hama province were shelled and bombed by regime forces on Saturday.
The villages are held by Syria's al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front and allied rebel groups.
"The offensive began with shelling and rocket attacks from all the surrounding regime military positions, which paved the way for Russian air raids using cluster bombs that are banned internationally," Hama Media Center spokesman, Hassan al-Omari, told The New Arab.
"Regime forces are under a lot of pressure to recapture Zara and ensure that the village's power station is out of rebel hands," Omari added.
Media activist Obeda Abu Khuzaima said that Russian and Syrian warplanes had carried out dozens of air raids on the villages and that regime forces were trying to advance on several fronts.
Syrian state media reported that "terrorist groups" had targeted Zara power plant with two rocket shells.
|More than 60 civilians were killed on Friday [Getty]|
In May, Nusra fighters and their allies shot dead 19 civilians from President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority in their own homes after seizing Zara.
Other villagers were kidnapped following the assault in which eight pro-regime militiamen were killed trying to defend the village in Hama province.
Syrian forces then clashed with the armed rebels, leaving dozens of casualties on the regime side as they struggled to retake the majority Alawite village.
More than 60 civilians were killed by shelling and air raids in the northwest of Syria on Friday, hours before the end of a shaky ceasefire for the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
Air raids on the town of Darkoush in Idlib killed 23 people, including two children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Dozens were wounded in the airstrikes that hit a market place in the rebel-town on Friday.
It was unclear whether the strikes came from Russian or Syrian warplanes.
Fighting has continued since the truce was announced on Wednesday, particularly in and around Syria's second city of Aleppo, with deaths on both sides of the divided city.
Thirty-four civilians, including four children, were killed and 200 others wounded by rebel shelling in regime-held areas, the Syrian Observatory said.
Six civilians including three children died in regime air raids on a rebel-held area on the route to Castello.
Meanwhile in the al-Qaeda-held town of Darkush, near the Turkish border, at least 22 civilians were killed and dozens wounded by air raids.