Rocket attack kills at least 12 in central Syria


BEIRUT — A government rocket attack killed at least 12 people in a village in central Syria today, while rebels battled regime forces over two key military bases in the northeast where government troops broke an opposition siege last week, activists said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rockets struck the village of Eastern Buwaydah outside of Homs, and that two children and two women were among those killed. Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said rebels and government forces also engaged in heavy fighting nearby.

Eastern Buwaydah is located between Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, and the Lebanese border. The region is of strategic value to President Bashar Assad’s regime because it links Damascus with the coastal enclave that is the heartland of Syria’s Alawites and also home to the country’s two main seaports, Latakia and Tartus.

Syria’s regime is dominated by the president’s minority Alawite sect — an offshoot of Shiite Islam — while the rebels fighting to overthrow Assad are mostly from the country’s Sunni majority. Assad’s major allies, the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group and Iran, are both Shiite.

In the northwestern province of Idlib, rebels were attacking government troops today as anti-Assad fighters tried to bottle up the military bases of Hamadiya and Wadi Deif near the city of Maaret al-Numan.

Regime forces killed more than 20 fighters in an ambush in the area on Saturday, allowing them to break the rebel hold on the countryside around the bases and ferry supplies to forces in the camps. For weeks, the military had had to drop supplies in by helicopter to the besieged troops.

“The rebels are trying to re-impose a siege on the camps,” Observatory director Abdul-Rahman said. “They want to close the highway ... to stop them from supporting Wadi Deif and Hamadiya.”

The fight for the two bases fits into the broader struggle for control of northern Syria, much of which has fallen to the rebels in the past year. Across the north, most of the countryside is in the hands of anti-Assad fighters, while the regime is holding out in isolated military bases and most urban centers.

Maaret al-Numan lies along the main north-south highway linking Damascus to the northern city of Aleppo, where rebels and government forces have been fighting for control since an opposition offensive on the city last summer.

If the regime were to regain control of the highway, it would open up a badly needed supply route to its forces in Aleppo — potentially paving the way for further government advances in much of the rebel-held north.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict since it began in March 2011.