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Assad's Advance Stalls as Syrian Rebels Win Battle in Alawite Villages.

Syrian rebels battling president Bashar al-Assad have seized control of four Alawite villages in the country's Latakia province, in a symbolic blow to the regime.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said opposition troops captured the mountainous villages after attacking government outposts in the Jabal al-Akrad hills on Sunday.

Inhabitants of the four villages reportedly fled and there were no reports of civilian casualties. However at least 32 government troops and 19 rebels died in the fighting.

The Alawite group is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, which dominates Assad's regime. The battle is a rare success for the rebels on the battlefield in recent weeks.

Last week, Assad's forces captured a key district in the central city of Homs.

Speaking in Damascus, Assad praised recent military gains across the country and said Syria can hammer the insurgency "within months" if people fight with the army through a popular war.

"How can we put an end to this battle and turn the table on others and restore security and stability? ... It is through this way [popular war] ... unity between the army and people to terminate terrorism."

His remarks are likely to discourage hopes of an imminent international peace conference in Geneva to revive a political transition plan. Russia, the US and the UN are still working to organise a meeting between the Syrian government and opposition groups.

"Terrorism and politics are complete opposites," said Assad, referring to the rebels.

"There can not be political action and progress on the political track while terrorism hits everywhere," Assad told prominent members of Syria's clergy, business and arts community on Sunday evening at an "iftar", or meal to break the fast during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, according to Reuters.

"No solution can be reached with terror except by striking it with an iron fist," he added.

Over 100,000 people have died in Syria's civil war, which started as a largely peaceful protest in March 2011 against Assad's rule, and turned into an armed uprising after security forces started a brutal crackdown on dissent.

His forces, backed by Lebanese Hezbollah militatns, have pushed the rebels outside the capital and made gains in Homs.
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Publication:International Business Times - US ed.
Geographic Code:7SYRI
Date:Aug 5, 2013
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