Syrian rebels capture major checkpoint in southern city

June 28, 2013

Rebels captured a major army post in the southern city of Daraa, Syria, on Friday after nearly two weeks of intense fighting as battles raged between troops and opposition forces in the province that borders Jordan, activists said.

Daraa, the provincial capital of the region of the same name, is the birthplace of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that started 27 months ago. Rebels hope to one day launch an offensive from the area to take the capital, Damascus.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Islamic militants, led by members of the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, or the al-Nusra Front, had captured the checkpoint after a two-week siege.

It said rebels blew up a car bomb Thursday, killing and wounding a number of soldiers, then stormed the post, made up of two of the highest buildings in the city.

“This post is very important because it overlooks old Daraa,” said Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the rights group. He added that the capture opens the way for rebels to take the southern neighborhood of Manshiyeh, close to the Jordanian border.

Earlier, the rights group said intense shelling overnight by Syrian government troops on the village of Karak in Daraa province had killed at least 10 women and girls.

Buoyed by an influx of fighters from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and other foreign Shiite Muslim militants, the Syrian regime has seized the initiative in the conflict in recent weeks, capturing a strategic town near the border with Lebanon and squeezing rebel positions around Damascus.

A video posted on a Daraa activist’s Facebook page showed the bodies of the women and children allegedly killed in the shelling lying wrapped in blankets. Another video from the village showed residents carrying the wounded into vehicles as women and children wailed. The videos appeared genuine and were consistent with other Associated Press reporting of the events.

The United Nations has estimated that more than 6,000 children are among about 93,000 people killed in the Syrian conflict.

Meanwhile, the rights group said a rare attack in Damascus’s Old City on Thursday was caused by an explosive device planted near a Shiite charity organization rather than a suicide bombing near a church, as it had reported earlier.

— Associated Press

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