Syrian rebels seize Deraa in battle for cradle of revolt

Fall of army post holds strategic significance, where the peaceful protest that turned into a civil war began.

By REUTERS
June 28, 2013 17:58
3 minute read.
Syrian tank moving into Deraa [amatuer video]

Syrian tank moving into Deraa 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Omari mosque, which served as a gathering point and makeshift clinic when protests began, was also recaptured but has been nearly destroyed by tank and artillery fire, he said.

Security forces had staged a bloody assault on the mosque from March 23-25, 2011, killing at least 31 people there.

The capture of the Binayat post was one of the first major rebel victories in months in the south, where Assad's forces have been on the offensive, as they have in Damascus and Homs province.

Before the government gains, Deraa, which is also the name of a province on the southern border with Jordan, had been an arms pipeline for rebels that stretched as far as Damascus.

But army advances had cut several routes and rebels also complained that a US-Russian proposal for a "Geneva 2" peace conference, as well as Western fears of a rising Islamist current among the rebels, had stalled weapons transfers.

Prospects for the conference have dimmed since Assad's forces, spearheaded by Lebanon's Hezbollah fighters, captured the town of Qusair on the Lebanese-Syrian border this month.

Gulf sources said they were given the green light to begin re-stocking rebels with heavy weapons after the United States announced it would provide the opposition with military support.

Western powers are keen to ensure that only relatively moderate rebel units receive the shipments, as opposed to Islamist militant brigades, some linked to al-Qaida, that have become increasingly powerful among the armed opposition.

Abdelrahman said Islamist fighters appeared to have led the latest battles in Deraa.

There were no reports of the use of advanced weaponry such as shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, which Saudi Arabia is now believed to be supplying to vetted rebel groups.


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