Syrian troops end prison siege
Published 22/05/2014 | 10:37
Syrian troops reached a besieged prison in the northern city of Aleppo today, ending a months-long attempt by rebels to free the inmates inside, an activist group and pro-government television stations reported.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 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 have repeatedly 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 towards 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.
Aleppo Central Prison is about four miles north of the city of Aleppo, once Syria's prized commercial centre. The war devastated the city, leaving rebels controlling its east as government 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."
He 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, government forces are now close to a command centre of the Islamic Front alliance, a coalition of seven rebel groups fighting the government. The centre is in an army infantry base that was captured by rebels two years ago.