Syrian government forces recaptured four northwestern villages on Tuesday as they pounded the area with air strikes in a counter-attack on insurgents threatening strongholds of President Bashar al-Assad, a monitor said.

Government warplanes by Tuesday afternoon had launched more than 100 air strikes since the previous night on parts of the Sahl al-Ghab plain seized by rebels in an advance this month, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

This month’s insurgent advance into the plain had brought rebels, including the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, to the eastern edge of mountains that form the traditional heartland of Assad’s Alawite people, forcing an army retreat to new defensive lines. […]