Syrian rebels capture key dam

Photo: Syrian rebels capture key dam / Arab World

Syrian rebels said Monday they had taken the strategically important Tishrin dam on the Euphrates river, following a week of heavy fighting with government forces, dpa reported.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights posted a video apparently showing rebels amid stocks of captured weapons at the dam, which provides one of the few crossings of the Euphrates in northern Syria.

The rebels said controlling the dam would give them an additional route from Aleppo to the province of al-Raqqa to the east. Both provinces border Turkey.

The 40-metre-high dam provides electricity for Aleppo, Syria's largest city, which has been the scene of heavy fighting since July. The city has suffered frequent power outages recently.

Activists in Idlib province, also in northern Syria, said Turkish anti-aircraft guns had fired warning shots at two Syrian jets as they approached its border.

The jets bombed an area some 500 metres inside Syrian territory, Rami Abdel-Rahman of the Observatory told dpa.

Syrian Information Minister Omran al Zoubi said Syrian troops were engaged in a war with well-armed groups of al-Qaeda militants and the "Qatar coalition," a reference to the recently formed Syrian National Coalition.

"At present, the government and its supporters in Syria have to fight al-Qaeda and the Qatar coalition, representing the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria which seeks to reinstate their presence in Syrian history," the official state-run Syrian news agency SANA quoted al-Zoebi as saying.

The Muslim Brotherhood of Syria was banned by the ruling Baath Party in 1963.

The regime has repeatedly blamed the uprising, which began in 2011, on insurgents financed and backed by Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar as well as western countries, mainly the United States.

Meanwhile, Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News, quoting a statement from the armed forces general staff, said that a joint Turkish-NATO team would begin a site survey on Tuesday for the deployment of Patriot air defence missiles.

The deployment was not for a "no-fly zone or offensive operations," but just for use "against an air or missile threat from Syria," the statement said.

Activists said Monday's death toll across Syria reached 78, mainly in areas on the outskirts of Damascus and in Idlib.

In Damascus, activists accused government forces of shelling a playground in the village of Deir al-Asafir, east of Damascus, with cluster bombs and killing 10 children on Sunday.

A video posted by activists showed the targeted playground and what appeared to be cluster bomblets on the ground.

On October 14, the New York-based Human Rights Watch accused the Syrian government of dropping cluster bombs on populated areas during its fight against rebel forces.

The rights group said that online video reports have shown evidence that such weapons were being used.

Cluster bombs are banned by 77 countries under a 2008 convention because of the threat they represent to civilians. Syria is not a signatory.

Abdel-Rahman, whose Observatory compiles casualty reports from a network of activists and medical personnel across Syria, told dpa that he was still examining video evidence and could not confirm that cluster bombs had been used.

The Observatory also warned that the health of Abdel Aziz al-Kheir, head of the international committee of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change opposition group, has deteriorated inside a jail in the capital's Mezze military airport.

Al-Kheir was detained two months ago by air force intelligence on his return from China, where he had held talks with officials.

News out of Syria cannot be independently verified as authorities have banned most journalists from entering restive areas.

Meanwhile, France has allocated 1.2 million euros in emergency aid to the newly formed opposition coalition, Arab media quoted a statement by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius as saying.

France's move came on the eve of a visit to Paris by Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev.

Russia, a key ally of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has been highly critical of the strong support France has given the Syrian opposition.

The Syrian National Coalition, which was formed in Qatar on November 11, has won formal recognition from Turkey, France, Britain and Gulf Arab states.

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