BEIRUT/MOSCOW: Activists say Syrian rebels have captured a hydroelectric dam on the Euphrates river in the country’s north in a strategic victory that followed days of fighting.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the Tishrin Dam, near the town of Manbij, fell to the rebels before dawn on Monday.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observatory, says the dam supplies several areas of Syria with electricity.
The rebels have been making strategic advances recently. On Sunday, they briefly captured a regime helicopter base outside Damascus.
Another activist said Syrian war planes bombed a rebel headquarters near the Turkish border on Monday but appeared to miss their target.
“The (Free Syrian Army) joint command is located in a school. It seems they have missed it. There were two jets — one of them looked like a reconnaissance aircraft. They had been flying over the area for an hour,” said activist Mohammad Abdallah.
They said a Turkish fighter was scrambled to the area. There was no immediate comment from Turkish authorities about the incident, which occurred in the village of Atima, across the border from the Turkish village of Bukulmez in Hatay province.
Medvedev says French support 'unacceptable'
In Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev slammed as “unacceptable” the recognition and support by France and other states of the Syrian opposition battling the regime of President Bashar Assad.
Britain and France have joined Turkey and Arabian Peninsula states in recognizing a newly formed opposition bloc as the sole representative of the Syrian people. Paris has also suggested arming the opposition fighters.
“From the point of view of international law, this is absolutely unacceptable,” Medvedev told Agence France-Presse and Le Figaro newspaper in an interview ahead of a working visit to Paris starting Monday.
“I remind you that in line with the principles of international law, no state can take measures aimed at the forced change of a government in another state.”
“A desire to change the political regime of another state by recognizing a political force as the sole carrier of sovereignty seems to me to be not completely civilized,” he added.
France was the first Western state to recognize the newly-formed Syrian National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people and was swiftly joined by Britain, Italy and the European Union.
Paris has also raised the idea of excluding defensive weapons for the rebels from the current blanket EU embargo on Syria. The United States has been more circumspect, saying it is not ready to recognize the oppposition and has appeared wary of arming them.
Medvedev described France’s stance as “very controversial.”
“Let the Syrian people decide the personal fate of Assad and his regime. It is preferable if they (the opposition forces) came to power legally and not because of deliveries of arms from other countries,” he said.
The Syrian National Coalition is a bloc of opposition groups led by moderate cleric Ahmad Moaz Al-Khatib formed after talks in Qatar this month as part of a Western-backed push to make the opposition a more cohesive force.
Russia has been repeatedly criticized throughout the Syrian conflict, which according to activists has claimed at least 40,000 lives, for failing to condemn the violence committed by the Assad regime.
But Medvedev — who was serving as president when the conflict began before giving way in May to his mentor Vladimir Putin — insisted that Moscow had not taken sides.
“Russia does not support the Assad regime or the opposition. We have a neutral position.”
“We condemn the actions of the government for the level of violence in the country and the actions carried out by the opposition, as they are also spilling blood.
“The result is a civil war.”
Russia has come under particular attack for not cutting its military cooperation with the Assad regime.
Even with the conflict in full spate, Turkey last month forced a Syrian jet to land owing to a suspicious cargo that according to Moscow was Russian radar equipment for Syrian missile defense systems.
“The military cooperation with Syria did not start today and always had a legal and open character... All we have delivered are arms for defense against external aggression,” said Medvedev.
“And we have contracts, which we are obliged to fulfil.”