Rebels take strategic Syria town
A Syrian security source said the army was planning heavy offensives in northern and central Syria to stem rebel advances, but there was no clear sign of such operations yet.
Rebels seized the Palestinian refugee district of Yarmouk earlier this week, which put them within 3 km of downtown Damascus. Heavy shelling and fighting forced thousands of Palestinian and Syrian residents to flee the Yarmouk area.
But rebels said today they were negotiating to put the camp - actually a densely packed urban district - back into the hands of pro-opposition Palestinian fighters. There are some 500,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants living in Syria, and they have been divided by the uprising.
Palestinian factions, some backed by the government and others by the rebels, had begun fighting last week, a development that allowed Syrian insurgents to take the camp.
Despite warnings of continued violence, a video released by activists today showed dozens of people returning to Yarmouk. Most of the people in the footage were men, suggesting entire families may not be venturing back yet.
"There are still negotiations going on between the Palestinians and the rebels. The rebels want control of the checkpoints to be sure they can keep supply routes open to central Damascus," said a rebel who asked not to be named.
"Palestinians want their fighters to run the checkpoints so the army will stop attacking and people can go home. But we are worried there are government collaborators among them."
The fighter said rebels were looking to ensure their Palestinian allies could keep open access for rebels in Yarmouk, which they have described as a gateway to central Damascus.
Elsewhere, Syrian insurgents took over an isolated border post on the western frontier with Lebanon earlier this week, local residents told Reuters today.
They said around 20 rebels from the Qadissiyah Brigade overran the post at Rankus, which is linked by road to the remote Lebanese village of Tufail.
Video footage downloaded on the Internet today, dated December 16th, showed a handful of fighters dressed in khaki fatigues and wielding rifles as they kicked down a stone barricade around a small, single-storey army checkpoint.
"This is the end of you, Bashar you dog," one of the fighters said. The remains of two army trucks, which the rebels said had been blown up, stood nearby on a single track dirt road crossing a flat brown plain between snow-capped mountains.
The rebels already hold much of the terrain along Syria's northern and eastern borders with Turkey and Iraq respectively.
Syrian interior minister Ibrahim al-Shaar arrived in Lebanon yesterday for treatment of wounds sustained in a bomb attack on his ministry in Damascus a week ago.
Lebanese medical sources said Shaar had shrapnel wounds in his shoulder, stomach and legs but they were not critical.
The Syrian opposition has tried to peel off defectors not only from the army but from the government as well, though only a handful of high-ranking officials have abandoned Dr Assad.
But the conflict has divided many Syrian families. Security forces arrested today an opposition activist who is also the relative of vice president Farouq al-Sharaa, the Syrian Observatory said. The man was arrested along with five other activists who are considered pacifists, it said.
Sharaa, a Sunni Muslim who has few powers in Dr Assad's Alawite-dominated power structure, said earlier this week that neither side could win the war in Syria. He called for the formation of a national unity government to solve a crisis that has killed more than 40,000 Syrians.