Syrian rebels claim capture of provincial capital

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Syrian rebels claim capture of provincial capital

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Rebels fighting to oust Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad claim to have captured the northeastern city of Raqqa.

Amateur video images are impossible to verify, but they purport to show some of the battle. If the city on the Euphrates River has fallen into rebel hands it represents a significant development in the two-year-old conflict.

Raqqa is known as the “hotel” of the country as it is home to thousands of displaced families. This has sparked opposition fears the regime will now target the city with Scud missiles to flush out its opponents and punish the population.

Although some residents reportedly pleaded with rebels not to enter the city, opposition activists quickly seized control and even defiantly toppled the statue of Bashar’s father Hafez al-Assad during a march on the main square.

Rebel fighters said loyalist forces were still dug in at the provincial airport 60 km from Raqqa and they remained a threat. A resident said that a Syrian military intelligence compound in the town was not in rebel hands but was surrounded by anti-Assad fighters.