Syrian rebels have seized large parts of Raqqah in the northeast from President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, and it may become the first city to fall entirely to the opposition, a rights group said.
Fighters with the al-Nusra Front and other rebel factions captured the governor of Raqqah province, Hassan Jalili, and the local head of the Ba’ath Party branch, Suleiman al-Suleiman, during the fighting, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on its Facebook page. The U.K.-based group posted a video that it said showed pro-government forces seized during the fighting.
Al-Nusra, an Islamist group, is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S., which has warned that weapons supplied to the Syrian opposition may end up in the hands of jihadists.
The two-year conflict, which has left more than 70,000 people dead, is also showing signs of spilling across the border into Iraq.
Al Arabiya reported today that Iraqi tanks shelled the Yarobiya border crossing. Syrian rebels attacked a convoy in the Iraqi province of Anbar, killing 48 Syrian and nine Iraqi soldiers, Iraq’s defense ministry said yesterday. The Syrian forces were being transported to the Al Walid border crossing after their border position at Yarobiya was overrun by rebels, Iraqi news agency al-Mada Press said.
“This attack, which is most likely by al-Qaeda sympathizers in the Syrian rebel movement, aims to spread the rebellion into Iraq because of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s support for Assad,” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military analysis in Dubai.
Maliki said he expects Assad to remain in power for years, London-based Asharq al-Awsat reported last month. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said yesterday that Assad has lost all authority in Syria.