Syria rebels seize command centre
Rebel groups including a hardline Islamist unit seized a government army command centre in northern Syria today, forcing more than 100 soldiers to flee, a monitoring group said.
President Bashar al-Assad's forces hammered rebel units on the outskirts of Damascus as they tried to drive back opposition fighters rebels seeking to advance toward the embattled leader's seat of power.
Jabhat al-Nusra, a group suspected of having links with al Qaeda, helped rebels take over the site - part of the 111th regiment base in the Sheikh Suleiman region of Aleppo province, which is on the country's northern border with Turkey, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Some fighters on the rebel and army side were killed, while about 140 soldiers fled to another military site in the area, the Observatory added.
Russia, Syria's main arms supplier, dismissed suggestions from observers that its support for Assad might be softening.
"We are not holding any talks on the fate of Assad," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and special UN envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi. "All attempts to present the situation differently are
rather shady," Itar-Tass news agency quoted him as saying.
Separately, Lebanese authorities today received the first three bodies from a group of 14 Lebanese and Palestinian gunmen killed in Syria as fighting triggered by the men's death continued to shake the northern port town of Tripoli.
A Reuters reporter in the area said clashes with machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades killed at least two people today, raising the total to over 14 dead in a week, and more than 140 wounded.
Tensions in northern Lebanon have run high since at least 14 Sunni Muslim Lebanese and Palestinian gunmen from the area were killed by Syrian security forces a week ago in a Syrian border town. The men appeared to have joined the armed insurgency against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Militants from northern Lebanon had long been suspected of entering neighbouring Syria, but the killing of the gunmen sparked tensions Tripoli's long simmering tensions.
Syria's conflict has not only stirred sectarian fighting in its own population, it has also revived sectarian clashes in Tripoli, whose communal makeup reflects that of Syria. Majority Sunnis in the city support Syria's mostly Sunni-led uprising, while
Alawites, the Shia-linked minority sect to which Assad belongs, are generally supportive of the Syrian president.
Syrian state television aired graphic video of the dead Lebanese gunmen, their bloodied corpses riddled with bullet holes. Families of the dead demonstrated last week to demand the return of the bodies, as clashes resumed in Tripoli.
An agreement was eventually reached between Syrian and Lebanese officials to transfer the bodies gradually, with the first three being delivered today. Cars brought the bodies up to the northern Lebanese border, where security forces and local religious authorities came to receive them.