Assad forces attack strategic town near Turkey: FSA

AMMAN Mon Aug 20, 2012 2:20pm EDT

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AMMAN (Reuters) - President Bashar al-Assad's forces launched a helicopter-backed offensive to retake a rebel-held Syrian town near the Turkish border on Monday, killing four opposition fighters, an opposition Free Syrian Army official said.

The fighting in Qastal Maaf, a mountain town on the road from the port of Latakia to Turkey, marks the first outbreak of major fighting in the strategic forest region, 8 km (5 miles) from the border and home to some of Syria's northern air defenses, Selim al-Omar said from Latakia.

Omar said helicopters fired rockets on the Sunni Muslim town as loyalist forces, composed mostly of shabbiha militiamen of the same minority Alawite sect as Assad, tried to storm it.

Omar said the attack had been repelled.

It was not immediately possible to independently verify the account.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; Editing by Alison Williams)

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