Soldiers recapture Syrian rebel enclave
With the bloodshed ramping up, France joined the U.N. peacekeeping chief in declaring Syria was in a state of civil war.
"When many groups belonging to the same people tear each other apart and kill each other, if you can't call it a civil war, then there are no words to describe it," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in Paris.
The battle for Haffa, in the mountains of Latakia province, raged for eight days as regime forces shelled the village to drive out rebels. The operation apparently was part of a larger offensive to retake areas that had fallen into rebel hands.
State television said regime forces had "cleansed" Haffa of "armed terrorist groups" and the Foreign Ministry urged U.N. observers to immediately head there "to check what the terrorist groups have done."
U.N. observers did not go to Haffa on Wednesday and are assessing the situation to determine when they can successfully reach the town, U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Kieran Dwyer said. On Tuesday, an angry crowd hurled rocks and sticks at the U.N. mission's vehicles, forcing them to turn back. None of the observers was hurt.
A spokeswoman for the observers, said they have been trying to reach Haffa since June 7.
Hundreds of rebel fighters believed to have been holed up in Haffa and nearby villages pulled out overnight, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, citing a network of activists on the ground.
On another front, fireballs of orange flames exploded over the central city of Homs, where Syrian forces fired a continuous rain of shells that slammed into the rebel-held neighborhoods of Khaldiyeh, Jouret al-Shayyah and the old city.
Recovering Haffa was particularly significant to the regime because the town is about 20 miles from President Bashar Assad's hometown. Latakia province is the heartland of the Alawite minority to which Assad and the ruling elite belong.
As the violence spiked, both sides in the conflict appeared to be using heavier weapons.
U.N. observers reported Syrian helicopters were firing on Haffa and other restive areas, and amateur videos posted online by activists suggest the opposition is using powerful antitank missiles.
"There are arms being delivered, and on both sides," Fabius said.
Although the Syrian rebels are outgunned by the well-armed Syrian army, weapons have been flowing across the country's borders from neighboring Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon. The rebels also say they buy weapons from Syrian soldiers looking to make a profit.
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