Syrian Rebel Fighting Closes Damascus-Jordan Highway

Syrian Rebels Seize Base; Battle Closes Damascus-Jordan Road
Two Syrian rebel fighters run to cross a road that is targeted by government sniper fire on the front line in the Aleppo neighborhood of Bustan al-Basr on Saturday. More than 30 people died in Syria on Sunday. Photographer: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

Syrian rebels seized a military base in the north of the country while heavy fighting with government forces closed a highway connecting Damascus with Jordan.

Rebels and Arab fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, designated a terrorist group by the U.S., overcame three brigades and a command center of the 111th regiment west of Aleppo yesterday, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on its Facebook page.

President Bashar al-Assad’s military has failed to prevent rebels from overrunning army bases, taking heavy weapons and seizing oilfields across the country. Fighters struggling to topple the government in Damascus have control of mainly Sunni Muslim towns and suburbs stretching from the northeastern outskirts of the capital to the southwest of the city.

The 20-month conflict, sparked by protests across the Arab world that led to the fall of leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, has claimed at least 40,000 deaths, according to the Observatory. More than 30 people died in Syria yesterday.

The situation “is bad and getting worse,” United Nations Special Envoy on Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said yesterday in Geneva, where he held talks with U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov.

New Command

The rebels’ Free Syrian Army elected a new military command yesterday, replacing Colonel Riad al-Asaad with Brigadier General Salim Idris, al-Arabiya television reported.

Idris told al-Arabiya in a telephone interview that the new command was elected by hundreds of rebels because “we are the real fighters on the ground, they decided to choose who leads them in the battle against Bashar al-Assad.”

Throughout the country, 95 people were killed yesterday, including 30 in or around Damascus, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mailed statement.

In Syria-related violence, fighting between Lebanese Sunnis supporting the revolution and Shiites who back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad escalated yesterday in Tripoli where both sides began using rockets to target each other, al-Jazeera television reported.

While the U.S.’s call for a change of leadership in Damascus has long been at odds with Russia’s support of Assad’s regime, their positions are now more aligned, Qatar’s Prime Minister Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al Thani told reporters yesterday in Doha. The fall of the regime is “imminent” and the Syrian people will only accept a change of government, he said.

Political Asylum

Numair Ghanem, the Syrian ambassador to Algeria, is seeking political asylum in France, Al-Arabiya television reported, citing activists. An unidentified Syrian government official denied the defection.

Ghanem would be one of the most senior officials to defect since August, when Prime Minister Riad Hijab fled to Jordan and denounced Assad’s regime as the “enemy of God.” Assad has struggled to maintain the cohesion of the government as the violent conflict drags on, destabilizing the economy.

Fighters ousted government forces from the command center at Sheikh Sleiman yesterday after clashes overnight, the Syrian Observatory said. Two rebels and one soldier died, while 140 government soldiers fled to another base in the area, the group said. Fighting stopped traffic on the road running from the Jordanian border to Damascus, Al Arabiya said.

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