Syrian rebel forces occupy second border post with Turkey
Syrian rebel forces occupied a second border post with Turkey on Sunday, three days after taking control of the frontier crossing of Bab al-Hawa, a Turkish diplomat told AFP.
Amateur video distributed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog group showed armed men carrying the flag of the Syrian uprising at the Al-Salama border crossing.
The diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said rebel forces took control of the Al-Salama outpost north of the Syrian city of Aleppo at 0400 GMT.
The crossing faces the southern Turkish border post of Oncupinar in the southern Kilis province.
The video footage shows one fighter, who identifies himself as spokesman for the “Northern Storm Brigade” of the rebel Free Syrian Army, said the border post was now under their control.
“Bab al-Salama has been liberated from the hands of Assad’s mafia, after a suffocating siege on them,” he said, without giving his name.
Regime forces “withdrew after suffering losses,” he added, describing Turkey as a “sister nation.”
Several men standing behind him hold up their weapons to celebrate, chanting: “Allahu Akbar! (God is greatest).”
The man called the takeover of the outpost a step on the road “to liberate Aleppo, and then Damascus, and then the presidential palace.”
Rebel forces gained control of the Bab al-Hawa crossing between Syria and Turkey on Thursday.
But by Saturday evening, a group of some 150 foreign fighters calling themselves as Islamists were in control of the Bab al-Hawa post, an AFP photographer said.
Some of the fighters said they belonged to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), while others claimed allegiance to a group called Shura Taliban.
They were armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, rocket launchers and improvised mines.
The fighters identified themselves as coming from a number of countries: Algeria, France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and the Russian republic of Chechnya.
There are seven functioning border posts along the nearly 900-kilometre (560-mile) frontier.
Meanwhile the Observartory said more than 19,000 people have been killed in violence in Syria since the outbreak of an anti-regime revolt last year.
“At least 19,106 people, most of them civilians, have been killed since March last year,” the Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
They included 13,296 civilians, 4,861 regime troops and 949 defectors, he said, noting that the civilian toll included people who had taken up arms against the regime.
“The toll does not include the thousands of people missing in detention,” said Abdel Rahman. “Nor does it include thousands of soldiers whose deaths the regime has concealed, in a bid to keep the army’s morale high.”
It is impossible to independently verify death toll accounts from Syria.
The Observatory’s latest count was released as regime troops stormed the Barzeh district of Damascus on Sunday, and as fighting engulfed neighborhoods of Syria’s second city Aleppo.
“Barzeh is being stormed by the feared Fourth Brigade” headed by President Bashar al-Assad’s brother Maher, Abdel Rahman said, noting that dozens of neighborhood residents were fleeing the area as helicopters pounded it and snipers were deployed on the district’s rooftops.
“The deployment in Barzeh is very heavy,” Abdel Rahman added.
Regime forces also deployed in the outskirts of the Mazzeh district of the capital, he said, adding one person was killed there on Sunday and several were wounded.
Elsewhere, clashes engulfed several districts of Aleppo, scene of heavy fighting since Friday. Violence was reported around the Salaheddin and Sakhur districts, Abdel Rahman said.
The army’s assault on Salaheddin began at dawn, in a bid to reclaim it from rebel hands, an anti-regime activist told AFP.
“Violent clashes have been taking place since the early morning,” the activist said on condition of anonymity.
A total of 164 people were killed in violence across Syria on Saturday, including 86 civilians, 49 soldiers and 29 rebel fighters.
Of those killed on Saturday, 27 civilians died in the embattled central province of Homs, including two women and six children in the rebel-held town of Rastan, which regime forces have shelled violently for several months.
In Damascus, those killed included a senior army general and weapons expert, assassinated by “unidentified gunmen” alongside his wife and two children in the historic district of Bab Touma, according to the Observatory.