Syria Rebels Seize Oilfield, Down Warplaneإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Rebels seized a major oilfield and shot down a warplane in eastern Syria Sunday, a watchdog said, notching up new battlefield successes even as the opposition met in Qatar under U.S. 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 U.N.-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 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.
"This is the first time the rebels have taken control of an oilfield," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France Presse.
The fighting began at dawn and lasted several hours, said 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 the town of 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 on Sunday.
The escalating conflict added urgency to a meeting of the opposition Syrian National Council in the Qatari capital Doha, with the United States reportedly pressing for a new umbrella organization to unite the country's fractured regime opponents.
According to the reports, which emerged after U.S. 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.
SNC chief Abdel Basset Sayda denounced what he called "efforts to bypass the SNC and numerous attempts to find substitutes" for the group, though he recognized that some criticisms of it are "founded."
The SNC lashed out on Friday at alleged U.S. interference in the opposition, accusing Washington of undermining the revolt and "sowing the seeds of division" by seeking its overhaul.
Clinton has voiced frustration with the SNC, calling it unrepresentative of on-the-ground opposition forces and saying it "can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition."
In his remarks, Sayda also argued military action against the regime must be "organized and unified," so that the various military groups battling the regime can form the "core of the next Syrian army."
On the diplomatic front, French President Francois Hollande visited Lebanon before traveling to Saudi Arabia, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was on his way to Cairo, with Syria topping the agenda for both.
Israel's armed forces chief Benny Gantz said, meanwhile, that his country could become involved in the conflict, as fighting raged on the strategic Golan Heights.
"This is a Syrian affair that could turn into our affair," the army's website quoted him as saying during a visit to troops on the frontier. It added that he told the soldiers to be alert, but did not elaborate further.
The Observatory says more than 36,000 people have died since the uprising against Assad's rule broke out in March 2011, first as a protest movement inspired by the Arab Spring and then as an armed rebellion after brutal repression by the regime.