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Syrian Military Launches Massive Offensive Against Rebel Strongholds

Scott Peterson/Getty Images(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces reportedly step up attacks on rebel strongholds in the country, activist groups allege that more than 200 people have been killed in areas near the Mediterranean coast.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees said the massive assault occurred near the seaport of Baniyas and the village of Bayda, where entire families were allegedly slaughtered.

Since Syria is under a news blackout to international reporters, the groups' claims could not be immediately verified.

Meanwhile, al-Assad has apparently ordered a new campaign to break the hold of rebel positions throughout Syria, especially in the city of Homs, one of the main flashpoints of the two-year conflict that has cost more than 70,000 lives, although the actual figure is likely much higher.

At least one of the activist organizations that sides with opposition forces said the Syrian military had regained control of the Wadi Sayeh district in the center of Homs.

All this comes as the Obama administration considers whether to greatly increase non-lethal assistance to rebel fighters or in fact, arm them, which carries the possibility that weapons could fall into the hands of al Qaeda-linked groups also fighting in Syria.

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