NGO: Syrian govt launches counter attack on strategic plain

BEIRUT - Syrian government forces recaptured four northwestern villages on Tuesday as they pounded the area with air strikes in a counter-attack on insurgents threatening strongholds of President Bashar Assad, a monitor said.
Government warplanes by Tuesday afternoon had launched more than 100 air strikes since the previous night on parts of the Sahl al-Ghab plain seized by rebels in an advance this month, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
This month's insurgent advance into the plain had brought rebels, including the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, to the eastern edge of mountains that form the traditional heartland of Assad's Alawite people, forcing an army retreat to new defensive lines.
The four-year-long war has gathered pace recently, intensifying on major frontlines including near Damascus, where a government air strike on a marketplace this week killed 100 people, and in the southern city of Deraa, where the government is battling a new rebel attempt to seize the entire city.
All are areas of vital importance to Assad, who with help from his regional allies Iran and the Lebanese group Hezbollah is seeking to shore up control over western areas of the country after losing much of the rest to groups including Islamic State.
The rebel advance into Sahl al-Ghab not only threatened the Alawite mountains but opened a route south to the city of Hama, one of the western population centers seen as a priority for Assad.
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