BEIRUT

Middle East

Syria troops ‘retake most of Aleppo prison’

A picture taken on February 6, 2014, shows the Aleppo central prison during clashes between pro-Syrian regime soldiers and rebel fighters. (AFP PHOTO/AMC/ZEIN AL-RIFAI)

BEIRUT: Syrian troops Friday retook most of Aleppo’s prison, after losses a day earlier, in fighting that killed at least 47 people in two days, a monitoring group said.

But it was unclear if hundreds of prisoners had been able to flee, as reported Thursday after rebel fighters had overrun the facility.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime aircraft were keeping up their daily assault on rebel-held districts of the northern city with barrel bombs.

The crude weaponry has killed at least 260 people since Saturday, including 73 children, according to the opposition-aligned group.

Fresh clashes in and around part of the prison broke out between government forces and fighters of Ahrar Al-Sham Brigade and the Al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front, the Britain-based watchdog said.

The 47 dead over two days were 20 soldiers, 22 rebels and five prisoners, it said.

Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman told AFP the rebel assault began with a suicide attack by a Nusra Front fighter at the prison’s main entrance.

Opposition activists said the suicide bomber was Chechen mujahid Sayfullakh Shishani. In a Twitter post, the Nusra Front confirmed his death, saying he was buried Friday in the suburbs of Aleppo.

The offensive is believed to have involved a number of suicide bombings. A British man of Pakistani origin, using the nom de guerre of Abu Suleiman al-Britani, was also believed to have driven a truck packed with explosives into the prison yesterday, becoming the first confirmed Briton to die fighting in Syria.

One foreign jihadist fighting in Aleppo, confirmed Britani’s death on Twitter, but said rebel gains in the prison had been overestimated.

“A small group managed to get in behind the walls, but Allah swt didn’t allow us to get further or liberate it now,” Abu Fulan al-Muhajir wrote Friday, also adding that no prisoners had been released yet.

“May allah swt accept him. All british muslims should be proud of him. I am, and I’m not even British,” he said of Britani.

“I met brother Abu Sulayman al-Britani. He looked so beautiful dressed all in white, standing on top of the car shouting ‘takbeer,’” the fighter from Bilad al-Sham wrote.

Ahrar al-Sham said Thursday that opposition fighters had taken full control of the prison, as did the Aleppo Media Center, a citizen journalist outlet.

But state TV said soldiers and security forces had thwarted the attack.

Rebels have for months launched attacks on the facility, which reportedly holds some 3,000 detainees, including Islamists and activists, as well as minors.

Conditions inside are said to be dire, with the Observatory reporting the death of some 600 prisoners because of extreme medical and food shortages, as well as violence around the prison in recent months.

The conditions prompted the government to announce in December the release of 366 prisoners for “humanitarian reasons.”

In addition to Aleppo, the Observatory said army helicopters Friday dropped barrel bombs in parts of Idlib, Hama and Daraya provinces.

In Hama’s Kafr Zeita, 11 people including five children were killed in the latest such attacks, whose use has been widely condemned by rights groups as indiscriminate.

And Syrian state TV reported nine people killed and 19 others wounded in mortar attacks on regime-controlled parts of Aleppo city.

An early death toll issued by the Local Coordination Committees opposition activist group said 35 people were killed across Syria Friday, but daily death tolls routinely exceed 100 people.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 08, 2014, on page 10.

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Summary

Syrian troops Friday retook most of Aleppo's prison, after losses a day earlier, in fighting that killed at least 47 people in two days, a monitoring group said.

The crude weaponry has killed at least 260 people since Saturday, including 73 children, according to the opposition-aligned group.

The 47 dead over two days were 20 soldiers, 22 rebels and five prisoners, it said.

One foreign jihadist fighting in Aleppo, confirmed Britani's death on Twitter, but said rebel gains in the prison had been overestimated.

Syrian state TV reported nine people killed and 19 others wounded in mortar attacks on regime-controlled parts of Aleppo city.

An early death toll issued by the Local Coordination Committees opposition activist group said 35 people were killed across Syria Friday, but daily death tolls routinely exceed 100 people.


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