Syrian troops reach besieged prison in Aleppo

2014-05-22 17:41

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Beirut - Syrian troops reached a besieged prison on Thursday in the northern city of Aleppo, ending a monthslong attempt by rebels to free the inmates inside, a Syrian activist group and pro-government television stations reported.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Right, which has a network of activists around the country, said government forces entered the prison at dawn, ending a siege that began in April 2013.

Lebanon's Al-Mayadeen and Al-Manar television stations, which are close to the Syrian government and have reporters in different parts of Syria, said government troops ended the siege.

The sprawling prison, which holds an estimated 4,000 inmates, has witnessed deadly clashes between government and opposition forces for the past year. Rebels repeatedly have barrelled suicide car bombs into the front gates and fought guards and troops holed up inside.

On Tuesday, government forces, backed by the air force, began a final push toward the prison. The Observatory said there are fears that government forces might kill some of the inmates and "claim that they died during the rebels' siege of the prison."

Aleppo has been carved into rebel- and government-controlled areas since opposition fighters launched an offensive in the north in mid-2012. The Syrian army appears intent on taking opposition-held parts of the country's major cities before the country's June presidential election.

Civil war

Aleppo Central Prison lies on a highway about 6km north of the city of Aleppo, once Syria's prized commercial center. The war devastated the city, leaving rebels controlling its east as Assad's forces hold its west.

"The air raids were astonishing," said Ibrahim Saeed, an activist based in Aleppo province. "The air force tipped the balance of power. More than 100 barrels bombs struck the area around the prison."

Saeed said the next target of government forces appears to be the nearby town of Handarat, then the Kindi Hospital in an attempt to close rebel supply lines from the countryside into Aleppo.

He added that after the capture of the prison, Assad's forces are now close to a command centre of the Islamic Front alliance, a coalition of seven rebel groups fighting the government. The center is in an army infantry base that was captured by rebels two years ago.

Activists say more than 160 000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict started in March 2011 as largely peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad's rule that deteriorated into civil war.

 The fighting has also uprooted nine million people from their homes, with over six million Syrians seeking shelter in safer parts of the country and at least 2.7 million fleeing to neighbouring countries.
- AP
Read more on:    syria  |  syria conflict
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