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Government retakes Alawite village in central Syria

Source: Reuters - Tue, 18 Feb 2014 09:56 GMT
Author: Reuters
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A man stands amid the rubble of damaged buildings at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Masaken Hanano in Aleppo February 17, 2014. REUTERS/Hosam Katan
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BEIRUT, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Syrian government forces seized a village inhabited by President Bashar al-Assad's minority community from Islamist fighters in a central province on Tuesday, state media said.

Insurgents including fighters from Ahrar al-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa and other Islamist groups had taken control of the village of Maan in the central province of Hama a few days earlier.

Residents of Maan, around five miles east of Syria's main north-south highway, are from the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam considered heretical by some hardline Islamists.

The army entered Maan "to eliminate the last group of terrorists who had infiltrated it and committed a massacre against its residents," Syria's state news agency SANA said, using its term for all rebels fighting Assad.

There were no immediate reports of casualties from the most recent battle, but SANA said dozens of residents, mostly women and children, had been killed when the militants entered Maan earlier in the month.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad monitoring group, said Islamist rebels had killed 20 civilians and at least 25 fighters from a pro-government National Defence Force militia when they first seized the village on Feb. 9.

It was not possible to verify the reports independently due to restrictions on the media in Syria.

Rebels fighting to overthrow Assad are overwhelmingly from the country's Sunni Muslim majority, backed by Islamist and jihadi fighters from across the Islamic world.

More than 140,000 people, including civilians, rebel fighters and Assad's forces, have been killed in nearly three years of conflict.

The country's infrastructure has also suffered severe damage.

SANA reported on Tuesday that the northwestern provinces of Tartous, Hama, Latakia, Idlib and Aleppo had lost electricity following attacks on high-tension power lines.

The Electricity Ministry said it was working to secure alternative sources of energy while technicians completed repairs. (Reporting By Stephen Kalin; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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