By Barbara Surk
Syrian rebels captured the country's largest dam on Monday after days of intense clashes, giving them control over water and electricity supplies for much of the country in a major blow to President Bashar Assad's regime.
The rebels had already seized two other dams on the Euphrates River. But the latest conquest, the al-Furat dam in northeastern Raqqa province, was a major coup for the opposition. It handed them control over water and electricity supplies for both government-held areas and large swathes of land the opposition has captured over the past 22 months of fighting.
Also in northern Syria, a car bomb exploded border crossing with Turkey in Idlib province. A Turkish Foreign Ministry official said 10 people died and more than 40 were wounded and taken to hospitals. The official said it was "highly likely" that the blast was caused by a car bomb because of the large extent of the damage.
The official requested anonymity in line with government rules that bar civil servants from speaking to the media without prior authorization.
The rebels have had their biggest success in the civil war across Syria's north including Idlib, Raqqa and Aleppo provinces, all bordering Turkey.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, a Britain-based anti-regime activist, said rebels took control of al-Furat dam around midday after successfully pushing out a group of Assad loyalist from the control room. Most of the regime troops in the area had stopped fighting on Sunday following the fall of the nearby town of al-Thawra, Abdul-Rahman said.
The rebel assault on the dam was led by al-Qaida-linked militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been fighting alongside the rebels trying to oust Assad. Al-Nusra Front is considered the most effective fighting force on the anti-regime side.
The government did not confirm it has lost control of the dam.
Earlier this month, the Observatory said rebels seized another smaller dam in Raqqa province, the Baath dam, named after Syria's ruling party. In November, Syrian opposition fighters captured Tishrin hydroelectric dam near the town of Manbij in northern Aleppo province, which borders Raqqa.
In the car bombing, Turkey's NTV said most of the victims were Syrians who had been waiting to enter Turkey. It cited Huseyin Sanverdi, mayor of the nearby Turkish town of Reyhanli, as saying the explosion occurred in a "buffer zone," an area straddling the frontier where travellers are processed while crossing between the two countries.
Witnesses said it struck a spot where humanitarian aid is loaded onto Syrian vehicles.
The border area between the two countries has been the scene of fierce fighting in the civil war. Tensions have also flared between the Syrian regime and Turkey in the past months after shells fired from Syria landed on the Turkish side.
As a result, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States decided to send two batteries of Patriot air defence missiles each to protect Turkey, their NATO ally.