AMMAN, May 29 (Reuters) - Syrian insurgents killed 20 soldiers in heavy fighting around a northern Syrian town close to the border with Turkey, opposition sources said on Tuesday.
They said six civilians and six rebels, including two rebel commanders, were also killed in the past 24 hours after the army launched an offensive with tanks and helicopters to retake the region around Atareb in Aleppo province, 18 km (11 miles) east of the Turkish border.
Most of the soldiers were killed when rebels attacked a column of armoured vehicles and pickup trucks carrying 'shabbiha', a pro-Assad militia, en route to Atareb from an army base to the east of the town, the opposition said.
"Four tanks and armoured vehicles were hit. At least ten troops were captured," said Ahmad Kinan, an opposition activist in contact with the rebels.
Nine wounded rebels were transported to a Turkish hospital and two commanders among them, Captain Mustafa Abdelrazzaq and Lieutenant Major Mohammad Youssef, died on the way, he said.
Another opposition source said rebels, who are lightly armoured and operate mostly at night to evade army helicopters, withdrew from Atareb at dawn, but that the army continued to shell the town, destroying dozens of houses and other buildings.
The town is located on the road to the main crossing point with Turkey and is also 35 kms from the city of Aleppo, Syria's commercial and industrial hub.
International envoy Kofi Annan is attempting to salvage a six-week-old peace plan, backed by the United Nations and the Arab League, that has failed to stop the violence in a 14-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. (Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom)