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Syrian Forces Kill 8 Militants

Syrian forces battled a group of Islamic extremists holed up in a farmhouse Thursday, killing eight in a fight that ended when some of the militants blew themselves up rather than be captured, state media said.

The gunbattle was the second clash with militants this week. Syria also announced Wednesday it had uncovered a bomb-making factory in the northern city of Aleppo, with manuals for attacks on public buildings and security headquarters in Syria.

The sweeps against militants come as Damascus is under intensifying US pressure to stop Islamic extremists from entering Iraq to join the insurgency against US and Iraqi forces.

It is not known, however, whether the crackdown is in part a response to the pressure. Syria has suggested the militants have links to Iraq, but has been unclear whether they were intending to cross into Iraq or to carry out attacks in Syria.

Thursday's fighting took place in Idlib, 200 miles north of Damascus, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.

Security forces battled the militants for an hour at the farmhouse, killing five of them. Then, "a huge explosion was heard inside the farmhouse. It appeared that three members of the group, wearing belts of explosives, blew themselves up," SANA said.

SANA identified the militants only as "takfiris," a reference to extremists who brand as infidels other Muslims who do not adhere to their views.

On Sunday, security forces clashed with militants planning to launch terror attacks in Aleppo, about 50 miles northeast of Idlib. Two militants were captured but died later of their wounds.

Before the militants died, they confessed that their group was planning to establish contact "with similar groups that are active in neighboring countries" — a reference to Iraq, SANA reported.

On Wednesday, security forces — working on information from the two militants who died — raided an explosives laboratory in Aleppo, seizing bomb-making materials, tools and training manuals for attacks against public buildings and security headquarters.

Syria has said some of the material came from Lebanon. Relations between Syria and Lebanon have soured since Syria withdrew its troop from its western neighbor in April following the outcry over the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Both sides have accused each other of allowing weapons to be smuggled across the border.
The United States has accused Syria of hosting extremists who support attacks in Iraq and Israel, but Syria also faces homegrown militants.

On Sept. 2, Syrian security forces killed five members of Jund al-Sham, which means Soldiers of Syria, in the north of the country and seized bombs and weapons.

Jund al-Sham was formed in Afghanistan by Syrian, Palestinian and Jordanian militants with links to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qaida in Iraq.

(Chinadaily.com via agencies December 9, 2005)

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