Rebels seized a major oilfield and shot down a warplane in eastern Syria yesterday, a watchdog said, notching up new battlefield successes even as the Opposition met in Qatar under US pressure for a makeover.
The rebel advances in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor came as their positions were pounded by warplanes around the capital Damascus and in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib.
State media also reported that a blast near the Dama Rose Hotel in the heart of Damascus wounded 11 civilians. It blamed the explosion on “terrorists” – the regime’s term for armed rebels.
The hotel hosted UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi during his visits to Damascus. The office of the Ombudsman, headed by diplomat Mokhtar Lamani, is also there.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the seizure of the eastern oilfield marked a first by the Opposition since the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime erupted in March 2011.
“Rebels in the Jaafar Tayyar Brigade took control of Al-Ward oilfield, east of the town of Mayadin, after a siege that lasted several days,” it said.
The fighting began at dawn and lasted several hours, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman, adding that 40 soldiers on guard were either killed, wounded or taken prisoner.
The Observatory later announced rebels in Deir Ezzor had shot down a warplane, citing witnesses. The group, which gathers its information from a network of activists, lawyers and medics in civilian and military hospitals, said initial reports indicated the pilot had been captured.
Fighting also erupted near a political intelligence office in Damascus province, the Observatory said, adding that warplanes later carried out three raids on the Ghuta region northeast of the capital.
An AFP correspondent in Aleppo province reported three air strikes in close succession on Al-Bab, with witnesses saying there were at least four fatalities.
The Observatory gave an initial toll of 96 dead — 35 civilians, 41 soldiers and 20 rebels — nationwide yesterday.
The escalating conflict added urgency to a meeting of the Opposition Syrian National Council in the Qatari capital Doha, with the US reportedly pressing for a new umbrella organisation to unite the country’s fractured regime opponents.
According to the reports, which emerged after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton charged the SNC was not representative, long-time dissident Riad Seif is touted as the potential head of a new government-in-exile dubbed the Syrian National Initiative.
But as the Doha meeting got under way, Seif denied he planned to head a government-in-exile.
“I shall not be a candidate to lead a government-in-exile… I am 66 and have health problems,” he told reporters.