Syrian rebels captured the country’s largest dam today after days of intense clashes, giving them control over water and electricity supplies for much of the country in a major blow to Bashar Assad’s regime.
The rebels had already seized two other dams on the Euphrates River but the latest conquest, the al-Furat dam in north-eastern Raqqa province, was a major coup for the opposition.
It handed them control over water and power for government-held areas and large swathes of land the opposition has captured over the past 22 months of fighting.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, a Britain-based activist with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said rebels took control of al-Furat dam around noon after pushing out a group of Assad loyalists from the control room.
Most of the regime troops in the area stopped fighting yesterday after the fall of the nearby town of al-Thawra, Mr Abdul-Rahman said.
The rebel assault on the dam was led by al Qaida-linked militant group Jabhat al-Nusra.
The government did not confirm it has lost control of the dam.
Earlier this month, the Observatory said rebels seized another smaller dam in Raqqa province, the Baath dam, named after Syria’s ruling party. In November, Syrian opposition fighters captured Tishrin hydroelectric dam near the town of Manbij in northern Aleppo province, which borders Raqqa.
Members of al-Nusra, which the US has branded a terrorist organisation, have been among the most effective fighters in the battle to oust Assad.
The group led battles for the other two dams, and was a decisive force in the opposition’s successful attacks on regime army bases outside major cities, including the capital Damascus and Aleppo in the north.
Elsewhere, two separate car bombings in northern Syria killed 26 people. Both were blamed on al-Nusra.
One bomb exploded near a border crossing with Turkey in Idlib province. Bulent Arinc, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, said 12 people were killed – nine Syrians and three Turks. He said 28 people were wounded, nine of them Turks. The vehicle that exploded had a Syrian licence plate, he added.
Turkey’s NTV said most of the victims were Syrians who had been waiting to enter Turkey. It cited Huseyin Sanverdi, mayor of the nearby Turkish town of Reyhanli, as saying the explosion occurred in a “buffer zone” where travellers are processed while crossing between the two countries.
Witnesses said it struck a spot where humanitarian aid is loaded on to Syrian vehicles.
The border area between the two countries has been the scene of fierce fighting in the civil war. Tensions have also flared between the Syrian regime and Turkey in the past months after shells fired from Syria landed on the Turkish side.
As a result, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States decided to send two batteries of Patriot air defence missiles each to protect Turkey, their Nato ally.
In the second car bombing, the Observatory said members of Jabhat al-Nusra blew themselves up in two car bombs outside an intelligence office in the city of Shadadah in the north-eastern province of Hasaka, killing at least 14 security agents.
The Observatory said Shadadah has been the scene of heavy clashes between troops and rebels.