By JAMAL HALABY
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry board a second plane after their original aircraft had mechanical problems on April 6, 2013, at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Kerry heads to the Middle East, his third trip to the region in two weeks, in a fresh bid to unlock long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. And in Istanbul, the first leg of a six-nation trip that goes on to Europe and East Asia, Kerry will coordinate with Turkey’s Prime Minister and other Turkish officials on efforts to halt the violence in neighboring Syria’s civil war. (AP Photo/Paul J. Richards, Pool)
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Syrian government airstrikes killed at least 20 people as the army pressed ahead Sunday with its campaign to crush the rebellion against President Bashar Assad, activists said.
State television said the primary goal of the airstrikes was to “recapture areas taken by the terrorists,” a reference to the rebel Free Syrian Army, who took up arms against Assad after security forces launched a bloody crackdown on protesters two years ago.
The rebels control large swaths of northern Syria, and captured their first provincial capital — the city of Raqqa — last month. They have also been making gains in recent weeks in the south, seizing military bases and towns in the strategically important region between Damascus and the border with Jordan, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the capital Damascus.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Sunday’s airstrikes targeted the northern cities of Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Idlib, the western Mediterranean city of Latakia, the eastern province of Deir el-Zour and the suburbs of Damascus.
To the south in Daraa, a man was shot dead by an army sniper, the Observatory said. It added that there was little rebel advancement in the province where opposition forces seized large swathes of land over the past two weeks.
In the outskirts of Damascus, the army pursued rebels in Adra district and raided their base in the neighborhood of Qarra, the state news agency SANA reported.
It also said the army “demolished two dens with all terrorists and ammunition inside them in al-Khalidiya district in the central province of Homs, killing several terrorists.” It provided no other details.
In a rare move, the government urged rebels to surrender their arms, warning in cell phone text messages that the army is “coming to get you.”