Smoke rises from buildings hit by shelling in Homs, Syria
Smoke rises from buildings hit by shelling in Homs, Syria

Syrian state television says government forces have retaken control of the rebellious western town of al-Haffeh, as heavy fighting inside Syria has led to a diplomatic back-and-forth between the United States and Russia.

Wednesday's report on Syrian TV said forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had restored calm and security in the strategic Sunni Muslim town after they "cleansed it of armed terrorist groups."

Anti-government rebels said they withdrew from al-Haffeh overnight following intense fighting there and in nearby villages in the coastal mountainous province of Latakia. The Free Syrian Army said it evacuated the wounded along with women and children and described the retreat as a tactical move "to avoid a massacre by regime forces of al-Haffeh's remaining residents."

Deaths Across Syria
Deaths Across Syria (Click to Expand)

Clashes began last week when security forces attempted to capture the town, located near the port city of Latakia and the Turkish border.

Russia has repeatedly blocked Western and Arab efforts to impose U.N. sanctions on the Assad government.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was time for the international community, including Russia, to come to table and "be constructive" in finding a way forward in Syria despite deviating views.

"Syria ... is not the only issue we disagree on, but it is one where people are being killed every single day, where violence is escalating, where the government has engaged in these brutal assaults against unarmed civilians, including children," she said, adding that the U.S. has "repeatedly urged" the Russian government to cut military ties with Syria and suspend all further deliveries.

"Russia says it wants peace and stability restored; it says it has no particular love lost for Assad and it also claims to have vital interests in the region and relationships that it wants to continue to keep," she said. "They put all of that at risk if they do not move more constructively right now."

In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov defended his country's arms sales to Syria, saying Russia was supplying "anti-air defense systems" to Damascus in a deal that "in no way violates international law." He said this "contrasts with what the United States is doing ... which is providing arms to the Syrian opposition that are being used against the Syrian government."

Clinton denied that the U.S. had offered military support to the Syrian opposition.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said Tuesday that Syria has seen a "massive increase in the level of violence" and is now in an all-out civil war.

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