Syria rebels attack northern Shiite villages: monitor



BEIRUT, LEBANON- Fierce fighting pitted regime loyalists against rebels backed by Al-Qaeda on Sunday, after insurgents launched an offensive aimed at seizing two Shiite villages in northern Syria, a monitoring group said.
Elsewhere, jihadist Islamic State group (IS) fighters shot down a government warplane over the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.



The villages of Nubol and Zahraa in war-battered Aleppo province have been under rebel siege for a year and a half.
Late Saturday, the rebels and their allies from Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front launched a major assault aimed at taking the villages, although they have yet to do so, the Observatory said.
"Fierce clashes have raged since midnight on the edges of Nubol and Zahraa," it said.
The Britain-based group described the offensive as "the most violent" since the rebels and Al-Qaeda besieged the villages.
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman also told AFP it was the first time that Al-Nusra Front had made advances in the area.
The jihadists announced their role via Twitter.
"The mujahedeen (have launched) an offensive against the rawafed in the villages of Nubol and Zahraa," the group said, using a pejorative term for Shiites.
At least eight rebels and jihadists and one civilian have been killed since Saturday night, the Observatory said.
Syria's war began as a peaceful revolt, but later morphed into a Sunni-dominated insurgency after President Bashar al-Assad's regime launched a massive crackdown on dissent.
The majority of Syria's rebels, like its population, are Sunni, while Assad belongs to the Alawite community, a Shiite offshoot.
The main forces defending Nubol and Zahraa are pro-regime militiamen and fighters from Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement.
Activists say previous rebel attempts to seize Nubol and Zahraa failed after the rebels were pressured by their US backers into retreating, for fear of sectarian massacres.
Several aid convoys have entered Nubol and Zahraa in recent months.
The Observatory says the rebel goal is to ease the Syrian army's pressure on their fellow insurgents in Aleppo city, the scene of heavy fighting since July 2012.
The monitoring group also reported 25 regime loyalists killed in fighting and rebel ambushes in Zibdin east of Damascus on Saturday.
Rebel-held Zibdin is strategically located in the Eastern Ghouta area, an insurgent stronghold under army siege for more than a year.
On a separate front, the jihadist IS shot down a regime warplane over Huweijet Saqer in Deir Ezzor province on Sunday, the Observatory said.
The aircraft was downed after the air force carried out some 20 strikes against jihadist positions in the province which neighbours Iraq.
The IS first emerged in Syria's war in April 2013.
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Monday, November 24th 2014
AFP
           


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