SYRIAN rebels have captured the country’s largest dam after days of clashes, giving them control over water and electricity supplies for much of the country in a major blow to president Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The rebels had already seized two other dams on the Euphrates River. But the latest conquest, the al-Furat dam in north-eastern Raqqa province, was a major coup for the opposition. It hands them control over water and electricity supplies for both government-held areas and large areas of land that the opposition has captured over the past 22 months of fighting.
Also in northern Syria, an explosion at a border crossing with Turkey in Idlib province left ten people dead. A Turkish foreign ministry official said more than 40 people were wounded and taken to hospitals, adding that it was “highly likely” the blast was caused by a car bomb.
The rebels have had their biggest success in the civil war across Syria’s north, including Idlib, Raqqa and Aleppo provinces, all bordering Turkey.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said rebels took control of al-Furat dam around noon yesterday after pushing out a group of Assad loyalists from the control room. Most of the regime troops in the area had stopped fighting on Sunday following the fall of the nearby town of al-Thawra, Mr Abdul-Rahman said. The government did not confirm it has lost control of the dam.
The rebel assault on the dam was led by Jabhat al-Nusra, a militant group linked to al-Qaeda which has been fighting alongside the rebels trying to remove Mr Assad.
“The dam was protected by an artillery battery and many intelligence units. The rebels moved on them in a lightning offensive yesterday, over-running their positions and capturing scores of personnel,” said Abu Ziad Teif, an opposition activist in contact with rebels in the area.
Earlier this month, the Observatory said rebels seized another smaller dam in Raqqa province, the Baath dam. In November, Syrian opposition fighters captured Tishrin hydroelectric dam near the town of Manbij in northern Aleppo province, which borders Raqqa.
Elsewhere, Turkey’s NTV said most of the victims of the car bombing were Syrians who had been waiting to enter Turkey.
It cited Huseyin Sanverdi, mayor of the nearby Turkish town of Reyhanli, as saying the explosion occurred in a “buffer zone” – an area straddling the frontier where travellers are processed while crossing between the two countries.
Witnesses said it struck a spot where humanitarian aid is loaded onto Syrian vehicles.
The border area between the two countries has been the scene of fierce fighting in the civil war. Tensions have also flared between the Syrian regime and Turkey in the past months after shells fired from Syria landed on Turkish soil.
As a result, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States decided to send two batteries of Patriot air defence missiles each to protect Turkey, their Nato ally.
In Damascus yesterday, Mr Assad’s forces brought in tanks to defend Jobar, a Sunni district just east of the city centre as the opposition pushed on with an offensive started late last week.
Amer, an opposition activist in Damascus, said: “The rebels appear to be advancing in the eastern sector. But the centre of Damascus is criss-crossed with concrete barriers and security is deployed everywhere.”