Syria rebels free hundreds from Aleppo jail
Syrian rebels seized control on Thursday of most of Aleppo’s central prison, freeing hundreds of prisoners, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“Ahrar al-Sham and Al-Nusra Front (brigades) have taken control of 80 percent of Aleppo central prison and freed hundreds of prisoners,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, adding that fighting was ongoing in the prison.
A coalition of Syrian rebels had declared a vast military operation in Aleppo province on Thursday, where more than 250 people have been killed in regime barrel bomb attacks since Saturday.
The Islamic Front -- a huge alliance grouping tens of thousands of rebels -- and the jihadist al-Nusra Front announced an operation dubbed “Truthful Promise Approaches,” the name a reference to a passage in the Quran.
“All military fighters in bases must go to the frontlines or they will be questioned and held accountable,” the groups said in a statement.
It asked residents of “occupied areas” to stay away from government checkpoints and bases, saying they would be targeted.
For nearly two months, President Bashar Assad’s forces have waged a relentless and deadly aerial campaign against the city of Aleppo, which has allowed his troops to make modest inroads in recent weeks in rebel-controlled areas of the divided city.
It has also fueled speculation that the government is laying the foundations for a large-scale attack to try to wrest back control of the neighborhoods it lost some 18 months ago.
In the past five days alone, airstrikes with so-called barrel bombs have killed at least 246 people, including 73 children, in Aleppo, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday.
The makeshift bombs - barrels or storage container packed with explosives, fuel and scrap metal - inflict massive damage upon impact.
The government has shown no sign of easing it aerial bombardment of the city. The Aleppo Media Center activist group reported at least seven airstrikes on opposition neighborhoods Thursday, including one on the Masaken Hanano district that killed 14 people.
The Observatory put the death toll at 11, although such discrepancies in casualty figures are common in the immediate aftermaths of attacks in Syria.
Meanwhile, state-run Syrian TV says an agreement has been reached to evacuate civilians from besieged parts of the central city of Homs.
The TV quotes Homs Governor Talal Barrazi as saying the deal was reached with the United Nations to evacuate the civilians “very soon.”
It did not give further details.
Rebels who have held ancient parts of the city known as Old Homs have been besieged by government forces for more than a year.
Weeklong peace talks in Geneva last month failed to achieve any concrete results on the evacuation of civilians and humanitarian aid convoys to Homs.