Saturday 25 November 2017

Governor captured as rebels take control of 'safe haven'

Ruth Sherlock Beirut

SYRIAN rebels have captured the governor of Raqqa province and overrun its capital city, further severing the north of the country from the control of Bashar al-Assad's government.

Hassan Jalili is the "highest profile capture by rebels of a regime official," said the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Suleiman Suleiman, the head of the ruling Baath party for Raqqa province, was also taken prisoner.

Amateur video shows the two men sitting disconsolately among jubilant armed rebels.

In another video, men claiming to be from the Jabhat al-Shura storm the governor's palace and rip down a poster of President al-Assad.

Even as the city was falling, President Assad, speaking from Damascus, publicly claimed victory over the opposition.

In comments published in the pro-regime Lebanese newspaper 'al-Akhbar', President Assad said the "conspiracy" against Syria was nearing an end, and that his enemies, backed by foreign powers, were "playing a game of survival".

There was little evidence of this yesterday, as rebel groups seized control of the political and state security buildings, which were the government's power centres in Raqqa city.

"As of this morning the city is completely liberated," Samer al-Abdullah, from the Sham News Network in Raqqa said.

Targets

The city remained far from stable, with government planes running air strikes against rebel targets. Loyalist pockets continued to fight pitched battles against rebel groups.

Raqqa had for almost a year been a safe haven for as many as 800,000 refugees who had fled the fighting in other areas.

Yesterday, tens of thousands of people were again forced to flee fighting and leave the city.

"Now many families simply have nowhere safe left to go. Many are going back to their cities because nowhere is safe, but some have had their homes destroyed there and so cannot even do this," said Ous al-Arabi, an activist from the war-riven northern city of Deir al-Zour.

If fighters can keep control of Raqqa it will be the first city to be fully under opposition control since the start of the conflict almost two years ago.

The UN's children's agency UNICEF warned that the slow war was creating a "lost generation", with hundreds of thousands of children being deprived of a proper education. As many as 20pc of the schools in Syria have been damaged in the fighting. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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