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December 22, 2013

Syrian rebels seize strategic hospital in Aleppo

BEIRUT — Syrian rebels seized control a strategic hospital near Aleppo, giving a boost to beleaguered anti-government forces in the northern city after days of relentless airstrikes on opposition-held neighborhoods there, activists said Saturday.

The rebels’ capture of Kindi hospital does not drastically alter the broader battle for Aleppo, which has been divided for more than a year between opposition and government forces. But it does provide a lift to a rebel movement that has been dogged in recent months by infighting that allowed President Bashar Assad’s forces to chip away at rebel-held territory on several fronts.

For months, rebels had been trying to capture Kindi hospital, which is close to the besieged central prison on the edge of town and where the government is believed to be holding thousands of detainees.

The hospital finally fell to the rebels on Friday, according to two activist groups — the Aleppo Media Center and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Aleppo-based activist Abu al-Hassan Marea said the rebels who overran the hospital included both conservative Muslim groups and al-Qaida-linked factions.

Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman said at least 42 government troops were killed in Friday’s fighting, and at least 19 Syrian rebels and an unknown number of foreign fighters.

A Syrian freelance photographer who worked for foreign news outlets, including Reuters, also was killed in the fighting, activists said. The photographer, Molhem Barakat, was with his brother, a rebel fighter, inside a carpet factory near the hospital when they were both killed, said Hassoun Abu Faisal of the Aleppo Media Center. Activists also circulated a photograph of Barakat’s corpse, which matched other images of him.

Abu Faisal said Barakat, who activists said was 18 years old, began working as a photographer about five months ago, was considered talented and quickly sold photographs to foreign media. Reuters said Saturday that Barakat had taken pictures for the news agency on a freelance basis.

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