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Syrian rebels seize strategic hospital in Aleppo

Sat., Dec. 21, 2013, 4:51 a.m.

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels have gained control of a strategic hospital in the city of Aleppo despite days of relentless barrel bombings of opposition-held areas in the northern city, activists said.

The shattered remains of the five-story Kindi hospital is close to Aleppo’s besieged central prison, which rebels have been trying to capture for months to free their comrades.

The rebels captured the hospital on Friday, according to two activist groups — the Aleppo Media Center and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Aleppo-based activist Abu al-Hassan Marea said the rebels who overran the ruins of the hospital included both conservative Muslim groups and al-Qaida linked factions.

At least 35 rebels were killed in the battle for Kindi, the activists said, a relatively high toll for a single day that spoke to the intensity of the fighting even by the brutal standards of Syria’s three-year civil war, said the Observatory, which has a network of activists on the ground. It was not clear how many soldiers were killed.

An 18-year-old Syrian photographer was also killed in the fighting, said the activists. Marea said the photographer was shot but that the circumstances of his death were not immediately clear. He said the photographer’s brother, a rebel fighter, was also killed in the same battle.

Syria is one of the world’s most dangerous places for reporters to work. The New-York based media rights group, the Committee to Project Journalists, says 22 journalists were killed in Syria this year. That toll did not include the photographer.

Syrian government forces have been dumping so called barrel bombs — containers dropped by helicopters and containing hundreds of pounds (kilograms) of explosives and fuel, causing massive damage on impact — over opposition-held parts of Aleppo for the past week, and the campaign continued on Saturday for its seventh day.

Syrian officials have not commented on the shelling in Aleppo, the country’s largest city and once its commercial hub. Aleppo has been a major front in the civil war since the rebels launched an offensive there in mid-2012, and the city has been carved into opposition- and government-held areas.

The escalation comes ahead of peace talks scheduled to begin on Jan. 22 in Montreaux, Switzerland. The timing has sparked speculation that Assad may be trying to strengthen his position on the ground and expose opposition weaknesses before sitting down at the negotiating table.

“I think it will have the reverse effect,” said Aleppo-based activist Abu Raed in a Skype interview, as explosions crackled in the background. He said residents and activists have almost become used to the bombing.

“The helicopters come. We stop and look. We keep looking until the barrel drops. We shout out God’s name. The civil defense comes to dig out people. The media activists go film,” Raed said.

Both Marea and Raed asked that they be identified only by their knick names, fearing for their own security.

Activist groups reported that at least three people were killed in Saturdays’ shelling. According to estimates, at least 100 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the Aleppo bombings the past week.


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