Syrian gunships continue to pound rebels in Latakia


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Syrian army helicopters and tanks pounded rebel positions in the Mediterranean province of Latakia for a second day on Wednesday, activists said, in the heaviest clashes there since the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad erupted last year.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group which monitors violence in the country, said army reinforcements arrived at dawn, killing a rebel captain in the town of Selma and six civilians in Haffeh, a mostly Sunni Muslim area where clashes have been most intense.

More than 35 people were reported killed on Tuesday and Assad's forces also suffered heavy casualties with at least 26 soldiers killed, many in ambushes by insurgents.

Rebels said on Monday they were no long bound by a ceasefire brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan in April. They said the Assad government had failed to honour it.

Latakia province is home to several towns inhabited by members of Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, which has been wary of the mostly Sunni-led uprising.

This week's clashes there are a rare surge of violence in a coastal province outside Syria's usual trail of bloodshed.

Local activists provided shaky footage of a Syrian helicopter firing rockets. A member of the rebel Free Syrian Army in Latakia said its lightly-armed fighters faced shellfire.

"There was heavy fighting all night. In the morning, Syrian forces started shelling Selma and Haffeh," the FSA's Ali al-Raidi told Reuters by telephone.

Syrian rebels have killed more than 100 soldiers and other security personnel in the last few days, the Observatory says.

Syria heavily restricts access to international media organisations, which Damascus says have contributed to inciting violence, making it hard to verify reports from either side.