BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian rebels claimed Friday night that they had freed
350 prisoners held in a security building in the divided city of
Aleppo, while in the opposition stronghold of Homs the rebels’
supporters held a public protest against the disorganization and lack of
unity among their forces.
Taken together, the developments amounted to a rare breakthrough but
also a sign of strain for the armed opposition, as the 18-month uprising
against President Bashar al-Assad appeared to settle into a protracted
stalemate, with his forces having the advantage in military might, but
being unable to stamp out the insurrection.
A rebel assault on Aleppo that has lasted for weeks appears to have
stalled in the face of the Syrian military’s artillery and air power,
but rebels there said that after a daylong battle they had captured a
military headquarters in the neighborhood of Hanano with the 350
captives inside. The rebels called them political prisoners.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group based in
Britain that tracks the violence, said 4 opposition fighters died in the
attack and at least 18 government soldiers were killed. Because Syria bars most foreign journalists from the country, those accounts could not be confirmed independently.
While the fighters in Aleppo struggled to advance in block-by-block
combat, opposition supporters in Homs, one of the first cities to rise
up, were holding what some called the first protest against the
fractious alliance of rebel brigades known as the Free Syrian Army.
“Instead of calling for the fall of the regime, we are protesting today
to call for the unification of the Free Syrian Army,” said an activist
in Homs who would allow the use of only his first name, Mohamed, because
of fears for his safety and that of his family.
“It’s humiliating,” he said over an Internet connection, with the chants of demonstrators ringing in the background.
As an example of the rebels’ lack of coordination, Mohamed recounted the
story of an initially successful assault three days ago on three
government checkpoints. The fighters captured the checkpoints, made off
with weapons and ammunition, but failed to leave anyone to guard the
“How could they do something like that?” he asked. “The regime forces
came back and seized back the checkpoints. But if the Free Syrian Army
were united, we wouldn’t make such a horrible mistake.”
“It is really a shame that after Homs was called the capital of the
revolution, Homs no longer deserves this name,” Mohamed added. “Hundreds
of families living under the siege here have been so disappointed.”
In Damascus, the capital, two bombs killed at least six of Mr. Assad’s
security officers and allied militiamen, known as the shabiha.
The first bomb was detonated around the end of Friday Prayer near a
group of about 50 police officers and shabiha who had gathered outside a
mosque in the neighborhood of Ruknideen to deter any demonstrations by
worshipers leaving a mosque, witnesses said. State news media said the
bomb had been planted on a moped, and the explosion killed six police
officers and civilians while wounding others. Syrian television showed a
bloodstained wall, crumpled vehicles and rubble left by the blast.
“The car bombs and blasts have become a daily thing in Damascus and its
suburbs,” said a 50-year-old resident of the neighborhood nearby. “These
blasts and car bombs are the biggest proof that the Assad regime no
longer has control on the ground,” he said, speaking on the condition of
anonymity out of safety concerns. “The regime closes the city’s
entrances to prevent such an attack, but today’s explosion proves there
are sleeper cells inside the city that can carry out any attack in any
A second bomb exploded about two hours later in a car in the upscale
neighborhood of Mezzeh. Syrian state news media said that it went off on
the street between the Information Ministry and the Justice Ministry,
and that no fatalities were reported.
The bomb exploded in a patrol car, said a witness, who described
ambulances moving wounded security men. But the report of no deaths
could not be corroborated. Most of the capital was under a tight
lockdown, with Syrian soldiers and tanks surrounding the mosques in an
attempt to deter post-Friday Prayer demonstrations, and heavily guarded
checkpoints ringing the city.
Residents and opposition groups reported shelling in the area around the crowded Yarmouk camp for Palestinian
refugees, along with street fighting in the neighborhoods of Bebila,
Kazaz and Tadamon as the military continued its promised drive to
“cleanse” greater Damascus of rebels.
But in some places, hundreds of opposition supporters nonetheless held
public rallies under the protection of Free Syrian Army fighters to
demonstrate their continued hold on at least a handful of suburbs
despite the military’s campaign to uproot them. After weeks of attacks
by both soldiers and aircraft, residents said that opposition fighters
still controlled a number of pockets around the capital.
“The regime announced many times that its forces will ‘purify’ or
‘cleanse’ or ‘liberate’ the Damascus suburbs from the ‘armed gangs,’ ”
said a 28-year-old demonstrator who gave his name as Osama at a rally in
the Al Hajar Al Aswad neighborhood. “But the regime lies in everything.
The opposition fighters are fighting inside the city of Damascus while
the Assad forces reattack the other districts with their tanks and
Three United States senators — John McCain, Republican of Arizona;
Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina; and Joseph I. Lieberman, a
Connecticut independent — on Friday declared their support for a
proposal from Turkey for Western powers to create a protected buffer
zone for the opposition within Syria’s borders. The senators, who were
returning from a visit to the region, said that as fighting continued
without Western support, militant Islamists were more likely to gain
power among the opposition.
“The opposition has effectively seized control of a piece of land in
northern Syria,” The Associated Press reported Mr. Lieberman as saying.
“If we help them protect themselves from Assad’s helicopters and
fixed-wing aircraft, they can establish a transitional government.” He
said such a step would allow exiled civilian opposition leaders to
connect with rebel fighters.
Mr. Lieberman expressed confidence that if the Western powers warned the
Assad government that an attack on the safe zone would be greeted with
“a vigorous response, they would not attack it.”
In: Other Middle East
Tags: Syrian Rebels Say They Freed 350 Prisoners, as Others Appeal for Unity
Location: Aleppo, Aleppo Governorate, Syria (load item map)
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