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      Aleppo Cut Off By Rebel Forces

      The northern commercial hub of Aleppo has been surrounded and cut off by rebel forces, with all but one road to the city blocked.
      By Chana Ya'ar
      First Publish: 11/26/2012, 9:04 PM

       Damage at Dar al Shifa hospital in Aleppo
      Damage at Dar al Shifa hospital in Aleppo
      Reuters

      The northern commercial hub of Aleppo has been surrounded and cut off by rebel forces, with all but one road to the city blocked.

      However, it is no longer clear exactly which rebel forces have cut off which roads, and who is fighting which battle, information rarely provided in coverage from the region. The opposition forces, fragmented from the start, have essentially split into two major factions: the Syrian National Council and a Muslim extremist coalition that has separated itself from the rest of the opposition, insisting it is "foreign-controlled."

      The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Monday that "rebels" fully control the Tishrin Dam on the Euphrates River. It appeared from the report that the reference was to fighters affiliated with the Syrian National Council, but it is impossible to accurately verify information coming out of Syria due to the restrictions placed on journalists by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

      The route that was cut is a key artery that connects Aleppo, both the province and city of the same name, with the province of Raqa. Only the Damascus-Aleppo highway now remains open.

      The report was confirmed by a resident of nearby Manbij, according to the AFP news agency. “The capture of the Tishrin dam is very important. It means the army basically has only one road left to Aleppo,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP by telephone.

      The overnight capture means the opposition now controls a wide area along the border of Turkey, two provinces which both backed the revolt against Assad.

      Rebel officers have formed the Free Officers Assembly to lay groundwork for a new Syrian army, a spokesman said Monday. The new group “will be a non-partisan defender of the rights and dignity of the people” working with the opposition Syrian National Coalition, he explained.

      No link with the other rebel group, a 13-member Muslim extremist opposition council, was mentioned, nor has the group made any further statement after its declaration one week ago of Aleppo as an “independent Islamic state.”

      Government forces have continued to shell rebel positions on the outskirts of the Syrian capital.

      The Damascus suburb of Daraya has been the  site of one of the worst massacres in the 20-month civil war. In the past three weeks, more than 130 people have been killed in Daraya, according to the Syrian National Council. The Observatory said that 80 percent of the dead were rebel fighters.

      On Monday, the pro-government Al-Watan daily newspaper said Syrian Army troops had inflicted heavy losses on “Al-Qaeda terrorists” as they advanced on Daraya.

      "Despite all the challenges facing Syria, the development process will continue,” Prime Minister Wael al-Halaqi said Monday as he laid the foundation stone for a new housing project in Damascus.

      More than 40,000 people have died in the conflict so far, according to various activists and medics who report to the Observatory.