Activists: Rocket kills 5 in Syrian town


BEIRUT (AP) — A rocket smashed into the home of a family in the embattled Christian town of Sadad in central Syria, killing five people as al-Qaida-linked rebels and soldiers clashed for control on Sunday, activists said.

At least three women were among the dead in Sadad, said Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights. He said it wasn't clear whether the projectile was fired by Syrian soldiers, or rebels who have been trying to seize the town for the past week.

Abdurrahman said the rocket strike occurred overnight Friday. The Observatory obtains its information from a network of activists on the ground.

He says residents are trapped in their homes in the western neighborhoods of Sadad, which rebels have controlled since taking a checkpoint last week. Others have fled to the nearby central city of Homs.

Abdurrahman said the rebels belonged to at least three al-Qaida-linked groups: the Nusra Front, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and the Green Brigade, which is mostly composed of hard-line fighters from outside Syria.

The rebels appear to have targeted Sadad because of its strategic location near the main highway north from Damascus rather than because it is inhabited primarily by Christians. But extremists among the rebels are hostile to Syria's Christians minority, which has largely backed President Bashar Assad during the conflict. Other al-Qaida-linked fighters have damaged and desecrated churches in areas they have overrun.

Abdurrahman said Syrian government forces were slowly retaking parts of the town.

The official Syrian government news agency said troops had wrested back control of eastern parts of Sadad, but were still clashing in other areas.

Also Sunday, Syrian Kurdish gunmen clashed with al-Qaida-linked groups to cement their control of a major border crossing with Iraq. The Kurdish militiamen captured the Yaaroubiyeh post in northeast Syria on Saturday after three days of clashes with several jihadist groups. Abdurrahman said the Kurdish gunmen were fighting pockets of rebels in southern Yaaroubiyeh.

Syria's chaotic three-year-old civil war pits Assad's forces against a disunited array of rebel groups. Al-Qaida-linked hard-liners have fought other groups as well as Kurdish militias who have taken advantage of the government's weakness to cement control over territory dominated by the ethnic minority.