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Published March 28, 2012, 09:47 AM

Activists: 40 killed this week in north Syria town

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian forces have captured a northern town from rebels after four days of fighting in which more than 40 people were killed and homes were burned down, activists said Wednesday.

By: BEN HUBBARD, Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian forces have captured a northern town from rebels after four days of fighting in which more than 40 people were killed and homes were burned down, activists said Wednesday.

It was just the latest in a string of opposition strongholds to fall to ruthless assaults by the better-equipped Syrian military.

Activists also reported clashes between Syrian army units and rebels in the country's center and east.

The fresh violence comes one day after President Bashar Assad said he has accepted a six-point U.N. plan to resolve the country's year-long crisis, including a cease-fire.

The Local Coordination Committees network said there were many unidentified corpses and wounded people in the streets of Saraqeb, the northern opposition town that the military seized after a four-day offensive that began Sunday.

As in other towns and cities recaptured recently by the army, Syrian troops left behind a trail of death and destruction.

The LCC and another activist group, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said hundreds of homes and shops in Saraqeb were pillaged and burned, and most of the town's residents fled along with the rebels.

Activist Fadi al-Yassin in the northern province of Idlib said the army was now in full control of Saraqeb. He said army defectors known as the Free Syrian Army resisted on the first day but then pulled out, fearing that they would bring more destruction on the town.

"They fled because there was no way they were going to be able to face the regime's huge military force," he said by satellite phone.

Saraqeb is on the main highway from the northern city of Aleppo and had an active FSA presence. Rebel fighters used it as a base to target army convoys nearby.

Detailed information from the town was limited because the military was surrounding it.

"The situation is very hard on the ground, and it's difficult for us to get there to find out exactly what is going on because the army is in complete control of the city," al-Yassin said.

Video from Saraqeb posted on the Internet appeared to back activists' claims of mass destruction and pillaging.

One video showed what appeared to be a destroyed home. Another showed burned out apartments, several burned cars and a row of shops with their shutters blown off. The slogan "Down with Bashar" was sprayed on one of the shutters. "Down with Iran's dog," read another. Iran is one of Syria's last close allies.

Al-Yassin said that of the roughly 50 people killed since Sunday, most were civilians. Some were rebel fighters.

Another group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also reported more than 50 killed in the town in recent days.

Elsewhere, three Syrian soldiers were killed in clashes with rebels in the central province of Homs Wednesday. The Observatory said the fighting broke out when government forces tried to enter the town of Rastan, which is in the hands of army defectors. The activist group also reported clashes in the Deir el-Zour province along the Iraqi border and said government troops fired mortars at the city of Homs.

The fresh violence coincides with a new wave of international diplomacy seeking to end the conflict that the U.N. says has left more than 9,000 people dead.

Syria said Tuesday that Assad accepted a peace plan put forward by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. The plan calls for Damascus to immediately stop troop movements and use of heavy weapons in populated areas and to commit to a daily two-hour halt in fighting to allow humanitarian access and medical evacuations.

It also calls for a full cease-fire to be supervised by the U.N. so that all parties can discuss a political solution.

Members of the fractured opposition struggling to end Assad's rule accused him of using the plan to stall for time as his troops make a renewed push to finish off bastions of dissent.

The U.S. and Britain, both of which have called on the Syrian president to step down, said Assad must back his words with action.

The 22-member Arab League was discussing a new resolution on the Syria conflict at a summit in Baghdad. The body's foreign ministers were expected to ask their heads of state to urge the Syrian regime to halt its crackdown on civilians and allow humanitarian groups into the country. The ministers were meeting in the Iraqi capital on Wednesday, and heads of state will gather on Thursday.

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