BEIRUT: Rebel forces took control of a strategic town in northern Syria yesterday, killing more than 50 pro-government fighters and cutting off government forces’ only supply route out of the city of Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based Observatory also said it had obtained a photograph showing the execution of Alawite cleric Badr Ghazal by hardline Islamist rebels, highlighting the growing sectarian bloodshed of the conflict
In Aleppo, rebels led by Islamist militant groups captured Khanasir, a town that sits on the government supply route connecting the northern province to the central city of Hama.
The rebel gain will leave government forces besieged in Aleppo province, according to the Observatory, which opposes President Bashar Al Assad’s rule. The move hampers Assad’s forces options for counterattack against the large swathes of rebel held territory in northern Syria along the Turkish border.
Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Observatory, said dozens of fighters from the paramilitary National Defence Forces (NDF) were killed. He said activists had so far counted 53 bodies, including that of the leader of the NDF’s Aleppo-based forces.
The NDF is a volunteer force that likens itself to the army’s reserve units. Its fighters generally stay in their own regions and have taken on the bulk of ground battles against the rebels, leaving Assad’s more elite military forces to organise artillery and air strikes.
Further south, residents in the central province of Homs said rebels also tried yesterday to retake the strategic town of Talkalakh, 4km from Lebanon’s northern border. Its capture would allow rebels in the Homs countryside to replenish their supplies.
For weeks, Assad’s forces had been on the offensive in Homs, a province they consider vital to securing their hold from Damascus to the president’s coastal stronghold. The coast is home to a large number of Assad’s Alawite minority sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam, who mostly support the president.
But the advance near Talkalakh and the purported assassination of an Alawite cleric suggest the rebels are tentatively trying to push back in central Syria.