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BEIRUT: A top rebel commander in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo was killed in a major battle for a military academy yesterday, his brigade said.
“It is with pride that Liwa Al Tawhid (brigade) announces the death in combat of the hero martyr, Colonel Yusef Al Jader (Abu Furat),” the brigade said on its Facebook page.
Abu Furat was killed during battles pitting troops against rebels trying to “liberate” a major military academy at Muslimiyeh, just north of the embattled city of Aleppo.
Abu Furat once headed a tank brigade in the Syrian army, but defected to join the rebels after putting his wife and children in a safe area of the war-torn country.
After joining Liwa Al Tawhid, a rebel brigade linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, Abu Furat became commander of military operations in Aleppo.
He frequently fought on the front lines of key battlegrounds such as Salaheddin and Seif Al Dawla, in the city of Aleppo.
Sharp-witted and friendly, Abu Furat was loved by his supporters.
“I propose that the Infantry Academy be renamed ‘Martyr Abu Furat School’,” one person wrote in a commentary posted on Liwa Al Tawhid’s Facebook page.
Abu Furat welcomed and provided cover to several news teams covering Syria’s conflict in Aleppo.
Meanwhile, Syrian forces assaulted rebel areas southwest of Damascus and insurgents captured large parts of a military school in the north as the nation’s conflict entered its 22nd month yesterday, activists said.
Syrian warplanes bombarded the town of Moadamiyat Al Sham, southwest of Damascus, while the army deployed reinforcements and attempted to storm the rebel-held nearly town of Daraya, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
In Daraya, rebels held out against fierce army attempts to break in on several fronts, the Britain-based Observatory said.
“This is the 28th day the criminal (President Bashar Al) Assad’s forces have attempted to break into the town,” read a statement from activists in Daraya.
Troops tried to storm the town from several directions, but the Daraya Martyrs battalion, a unit of the mainstream rebel Free Syrian Army, has kept them at bay, the activists said.
Daraya “remains isolated from the outside world due to a communications and power cut for the past 37 days. With ongoing fuel cuts, there is an urgent need for supplies to be restored as winter sets in,” they said.
Clashes also erupted in the Palestinian camp of Yarmuk in the south of the capital between rebels and troops backed by pro-regime Palestinian fighters, the Observatory reported.
The outskirts of Damascus have been at the heart of fighting this month as the regime launches operations to reclaim territory within eight kilometres (five miles) of the city. In northern Damascus, the army foiled an attempted car bomb attack, state television said.
“Army forces deactivated a car bomb laden with 1,000kg of explosives in Barzeh,” the broadcaster said.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told a top UN official in Damascus yesterday that Western sanctions are causing the population to suffer.
The United Nations “must intervene to ensure (US and EU sanctions) are lifted,” Muallem said, according to state news agency Sana.
US and EU sanctions “are responsible for the suffering of Syrian citizens,” Muallem added.
In her meeting with Muallem, Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said the UN “will continue to provide humanitarian assistance in coordination with the Syrian government,” Sana said.
Amos was in Damascus for a brief visit on Saturday, the agency said.
During the meeting, Muallem also called on the United Nations to “contribute its efforts to rebuild infrastructure and hospitals that were destroyed by armed terrorist groups,” a reference to anti-regime rebels.
Almost two years into the outbreak of an uprising that morphed into a bloody conflict, hundreds of thousands of Syrians are suffering from a lack of food, shelter and medical assistance. Hundreds of thousands more have fled.
Because of the raging violence, the United Nations decided in early December to pull out “non-essential” staff from the strife-torn country, a spokesman said.
The rebels came close to scoring a significant victory in the northern province of Aleppo—a fierce battleground for several months—as they captured large parts of an infantry academy in Muslimiyeh, north of the embattled city of Aleppo, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Observatory.
“Only four or five buildings of the school complex remain in army hands, and the rebels have them besieged,” he said.
“This is one of the most important military academies in all of Syria. The rebels are besieging and shelling troops there, mirroring the army’s tactics in their bid to control the complex.”
The Observatory, citing preliminary reports, said 35 people were killed in violence across Syria yesterday. At least 10 of them — civilians — were killed when warplanes bombarded the rebel-held town of Rastan in the central province of Homs, it said.
A total of more than 43,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad’s rule erupted in March 2011, according to the Observatory.