Syria’s al-Qaeda repelled from Shiite villages

Pro-government activists published photos that they said showed the bodies of Nusra Front fighters in a ditch near the villages

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Syria’s al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and other Sunni Muslim militants fought during the night to capture two Shiite villages in the country’s north but were repelled, activists on both sides of the war and a monitoring group said on Friday.

The insurgents were briefly able to control streets in the southern part of Zahra and buildings in the nearby village of Nubl, north of Aleppo city, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The militants, who used tanks, were pushed back from both areas by the National Defense Force, a grouping of loyalist militias under the umbrella of the army, it said.

Pro-government activists published photos on social media that they said showed the bodies of Nusra Front fighters in a ditch near the villages. Reuters could not confirm the authenticity of the photos.

The clashes were not reported on the state news agency SANA and the Ministry of Information was not immediately available for comment on Friday.

Both towns have been under a long siege by anti-government forces.

The army has used helicopters to drop supplies to the villagers.

Aleppo and surrounding areas have been hit by heavy fighting in a conflict which is now in its fourth year and has killed some 200,000 people, according to the United Nations.

In Syria, insurgents have besieged 26,500 people and the government has besieged 185,500 people, the U.N. says.

The conflict began in March 2011 with popular protests against President Bashar al-Assad and spiraled into civil war after a crackdown by security forces.

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