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Syrian government pushes back rebels

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By The Associated Press
Sunday, April 7, 2013, 6:45 p.m.

After weeks of rebel gains in the southern part of the nation, the Syrian regime began a counteroffensive on Sunday with widespread airstrikes and an operation that reclaimed a northern village on a strategically important route.

At least 20 people were killed in heavy airstrikes that targeted rebels trying to topple the regime in at least seven cities and regions. To underline their resolve, the government called on opposition fighters to surrender their arms and warned in text messages that the army is “coming to get you.”

State television said the aim was to send a message to the opposition and its Western backers that President Bashar Assad's troops are capable and willing to battle increasingly better armed rebels on multiple fronts.

Rebels have been making gains in recent weeks, especially in the south, near the border with Jordan. They have seized military bases and towns in the strategically important region between Damascus and the Jordanian border about 100 miles away.

To the north, however, the main rebel stronghold, government troops have been chipping away slowly during the past few weeks at rebel gains around the city of Aleppo, the country's commercial hub.

Troops recaptured on Saturday the village of Aziza on a strategic road that links Aleppo with its airport and military bases, activists said.

Rebels have been trying to capture that airport and the nearby bases for months.

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