Syrian warplanes bombard rebel-seized Raqqa
Syrian warplanes bombarded the city of Raqqa on Tuesday, a day after it was captured by rebel fighters, opposition campaigners and a resident said.
“The center of the city is being bombarded by warplanes. I counted 60 rockets,” the resident said, adding that hospitals had issued calls to donate blood as casualties mounted.
This comes after the Free Syrian Army (FSA) announced the capture of the Raqqa governor and a Baath Party official in the northeastern city that was overrun by opposition forces a day before.
The opposition military council posted a video on YouTube showing rebel fighters gathered around two men, one of them was identified as Raqqa governor Hussein Jalali.
FSA spokesperson Louay Almokdad commented on the capture of the governor and said that the city official was abandoned by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to “to face his fate.”
“Preliminary investigations with the governor of Raqqa show the insanity and recklessness of Bashar al-Assad even with the lives of his own men… despite [Assad] knowing that the city [of Raqqa] was going to be liberated within hours, he left [his men] to face their fate after all their sacrifices to him,” Almokdad posted on his Facebook page Tuesday.
“Among those with the Free Syrian Army are the governor of Raqqa, a Baath party secretary, two chiefs from security departments as well as many officers from the military intelligence.”
Addressing the captives, one rebel man said: “We just want to get rid of the regime, which is being protected by Iranian and Russian warships.”
Syrian opposition fighters captured the northeastern city of Raqqa on Monday and crowds toppled a statue of President Bashar al-Assad's father, Hafez.
The fall of Raqqa on the Euphrates River is considered to be significant development in the two-year-old revolt against Assad. The rebels do not claim to hold any other provincial capitals.
Rebel fighters said loyalist forces were still dug in at the provincial airport 60 km (40 miles) from Raqqa and they remained a threat. A resident said that a Syrian military intelligence compound in the town was not in rebel hands but was surrounded by anti-Assad fighters.
On Monday, the civil war spilled into neighboring Iraq, where officials reported that gunmen had killed at least 40 Syrian soldiers and government employees as they headed home after fleeing a Syrian rebel advance last week.
Around 65 Syrian soldiers and officials had handed themselves over to Iraqi authorities on Friday after rebels seized the Syrian side of the border crossing at the Syrian frontier town of Yaarabiya.
Iraqi authorities were taking them to another border crossing further south in Iraq's Sunni Muslim stronghold, Anbar province, when gunmen ambushed their convoy, a senior Iraqi official told Reuters. No group has claimed responsibility.
“The incident took place in Akashat when the convoy carrying the Syrian soldiers and employees was on its way to the al-Waleed border crossing,” a senior Iraqi official told Reuters.
“Gunmen set up an ambush and killed 40 of them, plus some Iraqi soldiers who were protecting the convoy.”
The Iraqi defense ministry, in a statement on its website, said 48 Syrian soldiers and nine Iraqi soldiers had been killed.
The ambush inside Iraq illustrates how Syria's conflict, with its sectarian overtones, has the potential to spill over its borders and drag in neighboring countries, further destabilizing an already volatile region.
Iraq's Anbar province is experiencing renewed demonstrations by Sunnis against the government of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nurial-Maliki over what they see as the marginalization of their minority and misuse of terrorism laws against them.
Syria's rebels are mostly Sunnis fighting to topple Assad's government, dominated by Alawites, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
Some 70,000 people have been killed in Syria and nearly a million have fled the country, the United Nations says.
In what could be a new danger for the millions of Syrians who have fled their homes but remain inside the country, rebels pushed into Raqqa, a city known as the “hotel” of the country after thousands of displaced families fled there.
Residents of the northeastern city, home to half a million people, had pleaded with rebels not to enter the densely built metropolitan area, fearing that Assad's war planes and artillery could target residential areas.