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Jul 11, 8:26 AM EDT

Syrian rebels attack defense minister's village

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BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian activists say rebels have attacked the village of the country's defense minister and captured parts of it.

Activists say the attack began Friday with a suicide bombing that targeted a checkpoint in the village of Rahjan in the central province of Hama.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says rebels then entered parts of the village, killing 18 soldiers and pro-government gunmen.

An activist in Hama who goes by the name of Muhannad al-Muhammad confirmed that rebels, including members of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, entered the village.

Syrian Defense Minister Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij is from the village and has played a major role in fighting rebels since he took office two years ago.

Syria's crisis which began in March 2011 has killed more than 170,000 people.

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