Syria: Rebel Enclave ‘Cleansed’ and Retaken

Posted June 13th, 2012 at 10:05 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian state television says government forces have retaken control of the rebellious western town of al-Haffeh after a week of heavy fighting that led the United States to warn of a potential massacre.

Wednesday's report said forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had restored calm and security in the strategic Sunni Muslim town after they “cleansed it of armed terrorist groups.”

Anti-government rebels said they withdrew from al-Haffeh overnight following intense fighting there and in nearby villages in the coastal mountainous province of Latakia. The Free Syrian Army said it evacuated the wounded along with women and children and described the retreat as a tactical move “to avoid a massacre by regime forces of al-Haffeh's remaining residents.”

Clashes began last week when security forces attempted to capture the town, located near the port city of Latakia and the Turkish border – and used by rebels as a smuggling route for people and supplies. The area is about 30 kilometers from the Assad family's mainly Alawite hometown of Qardaha.

In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov defended his country's arms sales to Syria, saying Russia was supplying “anti-air defense systems” to Damascus in a deal that “in no way violates international law.” He said this “contrasts with what the United States is doing…which is providing arms to the Syrian opposition that are being used against the Syrian government.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that Washington is concerned about reports Russia is sending attack helicopters to the Assad government, a longtime Russian ally.

Clinton also rejected Russia's claim that its arms shipments to Syria are unrelated to the uprising, calling it “patently untrue.” She said the U.S. has urged Russia to stop those arms transfers.

The Syrian foreign ministry denounced the U.S. allegation, calling it “blatant interference” in Syrian affairs and saying it “coincided” with an increase in attacks by rebels.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said Tuesday that Syria has seen a “massive increase in the level of violence” and is now in an all-out civil war.