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Syria rebels close Aleppo ring as France finances opposition

By AFP - Nov 26,2012 - Last updated at Nov 26,2012

DAMASCUS — Syrian rebels virtually cut off roads to Aleppo from neighbouring Raqa province on Monday, severing regime supply lines as France announced it had earmarked financial aid for the opposition coalition.

The Red Cross called on both sides to respect international humanitarian law a day after an aerial bombing killed 10 children, and the UN Palestinian refugee agency asked for more funds to cope with the crisis.

After days of fighting, the insurgents took full control of Tishrin Dam on the Euphrates River, a route that connects the northern provinces of Aleppo and Raqa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

A resident of nearby Manbij confirmed the report, adding that employees of the hydropower dam were continuing operations.

“The capture of the Tishrin Dam is very important. It means that the army basically has only one road left to Aleppo,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

“The highway crossing over the Tishrin Dam was the last main route from Raqa province under regime control,” he said.

With the overnight capture, the rebels now hold sway over a wide expanse of territory between the two provinces bordering Turkey, which backs the revolt against President Bashar Assad.

The army must now rely on the Damascus-Aleppo highway to bring reinforcements to Syria’s embattled commercial hub of Aleppo, where fighting is deadlocked.

Rebels also gained full control of Marj Al-Sultan air base, 15 kilometres east of Damascus, after seizing a large part of the airport on Sunday, said the Observatory.

Further west, a warplane launched three bombs or rockets at a rebel command centre in Atme near the Turkish border without causing casualties or hitting its target, an AFP journalist said.

The village, a nerve centre of the rebellion two kilometres from Turkey, was once home to 7,000 inhabitants who have mostly fled.

In a sign of growing confidence, rebel officers have formed a commission to lay the groundwork for a future army and liaise with the political opposition on issues such as arming fighters on the ground, a spokesman said.

He said the Free Officers Assembly would seek “to lay the correct foundations for the construction of the new Syrian army, which will be non-partisan”, working with the newly formed opposition National Coalition.

France said it had allocated 1.2 million euros ($1.5 million) in emergency aid for the coalition, as Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev slammed Paris’ support of the rebels as “unacceptable”.

“France, which was first to recognise the coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people, now wants to help it come to the aid of its countrymen in distress,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

Faced with an increasingly offensive revolt, the Assad regime has been reducing its territorial ambitions to focus on Damascus, central Syria and Alawite bastions, as it digs in for a long war, analysts say.

Troops have been bombing rebel positions on the outskirts of the capital, including in Daraya, the site of the worst massacre in the 20-month conflict, with state media saying on Monday that troops had inflicted heavy losses on “Al Qaeda terrorists” in their advance.

The International Committee of the Red Cross called on both sides to respect international and humanitarian law, a day after an aerial bombing killed 10 children in Deir Assafir, south of the capital.

ICRC operations director Pierre Krahenbuhl said those engaged in fighting “must at all times distinguish between civilians and persons directly participating in the fighting”.

The UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said in Jordan that it needed an additional $53 million to provide aid to up to 500,000 Palestinians in Syria.

An initial toll from the observatory, which relies on a network of activists and medics for its information, said 34 people were killed on Monday. The watchdog has recorded a total of more than 40,000 deaths in the Syrian conflict.

Meanwhile, Syrian warplanes bombed a rebel headquarters near the Turkish border on Monday, missing their target but sending hundreds of Syrians fleeing across the frontier.

The attack on the Free Syrian Army base in Atima, two kilometres from the border, came a day before Turkish and NATO officials were due to start assessing where to station surface-to-air missiles close to the 900km border.

Turkey, a big supporter of rebels fighting to oust Al Assad, has repeatedly scrambled jets along the border and responded in kind when Syrian shells have landed inside Turkey during clashes between government forces and insurgents.

But Ankara, rejecting Syrian complaints that the Patriots were “provocative”, stressed they would be used only to defend Turkish territory, not to create a no-fly zone inside Syria that rebels have long demanded as a way to neutralise Assad’s massive air power.

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