Published December 16, 2012
BEIRUT – An Islamist faction of Syrian rebels captured an infantry base in the northern city of Aleppo, its fighters said Sunday, as forces fighting to topple President Bashar Assad advanced on the country's largest city.
Also Sunday, Syrian warplanes blasted a Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus, killing eight people and wounding dozens, activists said. Some Palestinian groups in the Yarmouk camp have been backing Assad's regime.
The base was the second major army installation taken by rebels in a week in Aleppo. Its fall is the latest blow to the Assad regime.
Last week more than 100 nations, including the U.S., recognized the new Syrian opposition council as the legitimate representative of the country, a boost for the opposition forces that have been bombing regime targets in and around Damascus, once an impregnable stronghold of the Assad regime.
A statement by the al-Tawheed Brigade said the rebels "fully liberated" the military facility in Aleppo on Saturday. It was posted on al-Tawheed's official website on Sunday and said the Islamist rebel brigade's commander was killed in the battle.
The complex, known as Hanano Barracks, includes an army base, a recruiting center and a military school.
The Al-Tawheed Brigade is one of the largest rebel groups operating in Aleppo, Syria's largest city, which has been a major front in the civil war since July.
One of the videos posted on the group's website shows the body of a man the narrator says is "the hero and martyr who was killed on the day of liberating the infantry school," apparently the Al-Tawheed commander, Col. Youssef al-Jader. A boy said to be the commander's son is seen crying as he leans over the dead man.
Rebels are seen loading boxes of ammunition onto a truck, and several tanks and armored vehicles are parked nearby.
Another video shows several rebels praying at the captured base. Armed fighters are also seen walking around the infantry school with slogans "Assad Forever" and pictures of Assad and his late father, Hafez, hanging on the walls.
The Assad family has ruled Syria with an iron fist for more than 40 years.
The uprising started in March 2011 as peaceful protests but quickly turned into a civil war after the government's brutal crackdown on dissent.
Activists say more than 40,000 people have been killed in almost 21 months of conflict that has increasingly sectarian overtones.
The opposition fighters mostly come from Syria's majority Sunni Muslim community. Assad's regime is dominated by members of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
On Sunday, fighter jets screamed over Damascus to bomb two areas in the southern part of the capital.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighter jets carried out six airstrikes the Hajar Aswad area and the neighboring Yarmouk Palestinian camp, where the rebels have been advancing.
At least eight people were killed in the airstrike on Yarmouk, The Observatory said, and dozens were wounded. Several more people were killed in the clashes between rebels and gunmen loyal to Assad that followed the air strike, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the Observatory's president.
The Palestinians are divided over the crisis in Syria. When the unrest began in March 2011, the half-million-strong community tried to stay on the sidelines. But in recent months, many Palestinians started supporting the uprising, although most insisted the opposition to the regime should be peaceful.
A few groups with longstanding ties to the regime are fighting on the government side, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. The group is led by Ahmed Jibril, a strong ally of Assad.
Abdul-Rahman said the fighting, concentrated on the main street in the heart of the camp about six kilometers (four miles) from downtown Damascus was still in progress late Sunday afternoon.
The Observatory relies on reports from activists on the ground. The group said there were casualties in the fighting Sunday.
A resident of Yarmouk told the Associated Press that the clashes between rebels and PFLP-GC gunmen have flared up on Friday when rebels tried to take over the PFLP-GC's headquarters in Yarmouk. The resident spoke condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.