Syria rebels seize dam, blast on Turkish border

Mon Feb 11, 2013 10:15am EST
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By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Dominic Evans

AMMAN/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Rebels have captured Syria's biggest hydro-electric dam and battled army tank units near the center of Damascus, activists said as the opposition renewed an offer on Monday to negotiate the departure of President Bashar al-Assad.

On the Turkish border, nine people were killed when a car arriving from rebel-held territory in northwestern Syria blew up at the Reyhanli frontier crossing; Turkish officials said it was unclear whether the blast was a suicide attack or an accident.

The rebel seizure of the Taqba dam, a prestige project on the Euphrates river completed by Assad's father in the 1970s, may have only limited impact on already patchy power supplies but along with the fighting in the capital it provided more evidence that the president is ever more beleaguered, if still tenacious.

Moaz Alkhatib, exile leader of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said he had had no response to his offer to discuss a handover of power with the Assad government but said the invitation still stood, despite the passing of an initial deadline for a response on Sunday.

The president has given no sign of wanting to negotiate his own departure, despite military reverses over the past two years that have put half the country in rebel hands and left many in his Alawite minority fearing for the worst if the mainly Sunni Muslim revolt overturns their four decades of pre-eminence.

On Monday, after Alkhatib's latest remarks on talks, Syria's state news agency quoted Assad as saying: "Syria will not give up on its principles however great the pressure and the conspiracies, which do not target Syria alone but all Arabs."

While Assad, an ally of Shi'ite, non-Arab Iran, has accused Sunni Arab states including Saudi Arabia and Qatar of fomenting the rebellion, he has also blamed Western powers and Israel of conspiring to overthrow him.

DAM TAKEN   Continued...

A man walks past a damaged gate after an explosion at Cilvegozu border gate on the Turkish-Syrian border in Hatay province February 11, 2013, in this picture taken by Anadolu Agency. REUTERS/Cem Genco/Anadolu Agency