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Syrian army drops leaflets in north amid fighting

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By The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 3, 2013, 9:03 p.m.

The Syrian military dropped leaflets on opposition-held territory in the country's north on Wednesday, urging rebel fighters to surrender as the two sides fought for control of a major highway.

The psychological tactics are part of a relentless regime offensive against rebel forces that have recently acquired shipments of badly needed advanced weaponry from Gulf Arab states. Similar campaigns in the past by the regime to reach out to rebels through leaflets and SMS messages failed to achieve results.

The battle for Idlib province in the north is one of a series of flashpoints as government forces wage a fresh campaign against the rebels on several fronts. Regime forces are in firm control of the city, while dozens of rebel brigades hold rural areas outside.

The battle for the highway leading from Latakia province, a mountainous region along the Mediterranean, into Idlib province is crucial to rebel efforts to retain control of the villages and towns they hold in the area. The regime uses the highway to transport weapons and other supplies from the coastal stronghold to its troops in the north.

“Abandon your weapons and return to your family,” read one of the leaflets dropped in Idlib and addressed to foreign fighters.

The leaflets signed by the General Command of the Army and the Armed Forces instruct rebels to approach Syrian government checkpoints slowly while waving the paper in the air as a sign of surrender.

The U.N. estimates that more than 93,000 people have been killed in Syria since the anti-Assad revolt began in March 2011. With so much bloodshed and much of the country still contested, the regime's call to surrender was highly unlikely to find any takers on the rebel side.

Idlib holds strategic value to the rebels because it borders Turkey, which has been a critical source of weapons shipments and other supplies. Latakia province, meanwhile, is predominantly home to members of the president's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

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