syria war regime army assad.jpg
Photograph: EPA/SANA / HANDOUT

Islamist rebels led by al-Qaeda's Syria branch, al-Nusra Front, seized a key village loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and kidnapped dozens of people, a monitoring group reported Thursday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebels took control of al-Zara village on the southern outskirts of the central province of Hama following clashes with regime forces.

Al-Zara is located near a main road linking Hama and the central city of Homs. The village is mostly inhabited by Alawites, the sect to which al-Assad belongs.

Observatory head Rami Abdel-Rahman told dpa that the rebels had seized dozens of civilians and pro-regime militiamen whose fate was still unknown.

Regime warplanes have targeted al-Zara with at least 40 airstrikes since the rebels captured it, the watchdog said.

The rebels' attack on the village was reportedly codenamed "Revenge for Aleppo," a reference to the northern city that has been a key battleground between al-Assad's forces and opposition rebels in recent weeks.

The regime and rebels were Thursday reciprocating retaliatory attacks in Aleppo, hours after a temporary ceasefire ended in the city, activists said.

Regime warplanes bombarded the rebel-held districts of al-Zahara and al-Maysar shortly after the truce ended at midnight Wednesday, the Observatory said.

Rebels retaliated by firing at least three shells at dawn on Aleppo's regime-controlled neighbourhood of Seif al-Dawla, the watchdog added.

Mahmoud al-Shami, an activist based in the rebel-held side of Aleppo said that regime jets carried out air raids in the area following the end of the truce.

On Monday, the Syrian army said it had extended a 72-hour truce in Aleppo and its countryside for a further two days.

Retaliatory shelling and government airstrikes have claimed almost 300 civilian lives in Aleppo since April 22, according to the Britain-based Observatory that relies on a network of activists inside Syria.

Once Syria's commercial hub, Aleppo is now divided between the government-held west and the rebel-controlled east.

Several Syrian areas have been besieged by government forces and rebels during the conflict that started with peaceful pro-democracy protests in March 2011.

Meanwhile, humanitarian aid that was due Thursday to be delivered for the first time in nearly four years to Daraya, a Damascus suburb besieged by government forces, was turned back at the last government checkpoint, the UN and its parter organizations said.

"Daraya has been the site of relentless fighting for more than three and a half years, and we know the situation there is desperate," said Yacoub El Hillo, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Syria.

Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said that the UN and its aid partners "decided to abort the mission" because food items meant for children had been removed at the checkpoint, calling the situation "extremely disappointing."

The convoy had been previously granted clearance to go into Daraya.

The convoy was supposed to provide essential medical supplies, including vaccinations; nutrition items for children; hygiene items and school kits.

According to Fadi, an activist based inside Daraya, people were angry because they needed "food to eat and not unecessary medical supplies."

He added shortly after the joint aid convoy was turned away, the regime shelled Daraya with mortars, killing a man and his son, who were waiting for the convoy to enter Daraya.  

Daraya is located some 8 kilometres south-west of the centre of Damascus.

Its pre-war population was estimated at nearly 79,000 people. The town's population at present ranges between 4,000 and 8,000, according to the UN estimates.   

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