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Fighters overrun Raqa, but Assad sees ‘win’

DAMASCUS: President Bashar Assad said his regime has conquered the “conspiracy” against it, even as fighters overran the capital of Raqa province and captured its governor in the biggest success of their revolt.
Assad in comments published yesterday in pro-Damascus Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, also said his opponents, backed by foreign powers, were “playing a game of survival” and that his forces were winning on the battlefields.
“Significant successes have been made, whose strategic importance is clear even to those in the region and the rest of the world who are making useless plans against Syria’s security,” the report cited Assad as telling his Arab nationalist visitors.
Assad’s remarks were published a day after Syrian fighters fighting the regime overran the provincial capital of Raqa province in the north, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Yesterday, the Observatory distributed a short amateur video filmed by fighters showing provincial governor Hassan Jalili, and Suleiman Suleiman, the ruling Baath party’s secretary-general for Raqa province, captured by fighters.
“All we want is to get rid of the regime,” an unidentified fighter tells the captives, who can be seen sitting in silence, wearing dark suits and pale blue shirts. The veracity of the video could not immediately be verified.
“This is the highest profile capture by fighters of a regime official. Raqa has suffered a lot because of the governor’s corruption,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Though insurgents took most of Raqa on Monday, troops and pro-regime militia fought on during the night near the military intelligence headquarters in the city, said the Observatory.
“New army reinforcements are on their way to Raqa,” Abdel Rahman said. Raqa was once home to 240,000 residents, but some 800,000 people forced to flee violence in other parts of Syria have sought shelter there since the start of the conflict.
Jordan’s King Abdallah called on the Syrian regime yesterday to move toward an “inclusive transition” to prevent the breakup of the war-torn country.
“Only an inclusive transition will stop sectarian conflict and avoid fragmentation of Syria,” the king said at a press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul.
King Abdallah said there was an “urgent need” for a political transition to stop the bloodshed and “preserve the territorial integrity” of Syria,
Elsewhere, fresh clashes broke out yesterday pitting fighters against troops in insurgent enclaves of the city of Homs, said the Observatory.
The battles come three days into a fierce army and pro-regime militia campaign to reclaim opposition belts in the heart of Homs, dubbed by anti-Assad activists as “the capital of the revolution.”
An activist in the opposition-held Old City district of Homs, which has been under army siege for eight months, compared yesterday’s round of fighting to “a war of attrition,” as fighters fought off the onslaught and both sides sustained heavy casualties.
“Everywhere you look, it’s raining bullets,” said Abu Bilal. “Everything in the Old City is burning. This is the army’s fiercest onslaught on Homs since the outbreak of the revolt” in March 2011.
Meanwhile, the price of petrol in Syria rose by 18 percent yesterday to 65 Syrian pounds ($ 0.70) per liter.
The usual long queues outside Damascus fuel stations dropped off drastically as the price rise, the second in four months, came into effect.

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