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Syria: Drinking water pipeline damaged in Aleppo

SHARE Syria: Drinking water pipeline damaged in Aleppo

BEIRUT — A major water pipeline in Syria's largest city was damaged during intense fighting Saturday, leaving several Aleppo neighborhoods without drinking water.

President Bashar Assad's regime and rebels trying to oust it have been battling for weeks over the commercial hub of Aleppo.

Rebels scored a major victory late Friday when they seized part of the Hanano barracks, one of the army's largest posts in the area, activists said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels were able to reach the edge of the barracks, which house more 2,000 than soldiers including many reinforcements brought from other parts of Syria.

Aleppo activist Mohammed Saeed said rebels also were able to free scores of detainees from the sprawling barracks, which is close to the city center.

Rebels also attacked a main army checkpoint linking Aleppo with Turkey, where many Syrians have taken refuge from the fighting. The Observatory said six rebels were killed in the attack.

The Observatory and another activist group known as the Local Coordination Committees also reported fresh clashes in the Damascus neighborhood of Tadamon, claiming an army helicopter had been shot down.

Syria's civil war witnessed a major turning point in August when Assad's forces began widely using air power for the first time to crush the revolt. Several warplanes and helicopters have been shot down over the past weeks.

The fighting also reached Aleppo, which had been relatively quiet for most of the 18-month-old revolt. While the military largely was able to quell a rebel offensive launched in Damascus in July, it is still struggling to stamp out the push to take control of the northern city of Aleppo.

The Syrian government and opposition traded blame over the damage to the water pipeline in the central neighborhood of Midan.

The LCC and Aleppo-based activists said a Syrian army warplane hit the pipeline with a missile.

The Observatory said the pipeline was hit as warplanes bombed the area while clashes raged on the ground, but it said it was not immediately clear exactly what caused the damage.

"Water was completely cut from several neighborhoods in the city," Saeed said via Skype. "Electricity was cut and now water. This will only increase the suffering of people."

Aleppo's governor Mohammed Wahid Akkad said two water pumps were subjected to an act of sabotage by "terrorists," the term used by the regime for the rebels.

Akkad was quoted by state-run news agency SANA as saying that water was cut in the neighborhoods of Midan, Suleimaniyeh and Aziziyeh and work is under way to repair them.

Amateur videos posted online showed one of Midan's streets after it was turned into a small river by the flow of water gushing from the pipeline.

The authenticity of the video and activist claims could not be independently confirmed. The regime has strictly limited independent reporting in the country.

The uprising against Assad began in March 2011, when protests calling for political change were met by a violent government crackdown by government troops. Many in the opposition took up arms, and activists say more than 23,000 people have been killed. The government says more than 4,000 security officers are among the dead.

The Observatory and the LCC also reported clashes in the Damascus suburbs as well as the northern province of Idlib, the southern province of Daraa and central Hama and Homs.

In Damascus, the Observatory reported intense fighting Saturday in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, which had been subjected to government shelling the day before.

When Syria's unrest began, the country's half-million Palestinians tried to stay on the sidelines. But in recent months, young Palestinian refugees — enraged by mounting violence and moved by Arab Spring calls for greater freedoms — have been taking to the streets and even joining the rebels.

Associated Press writer Albert Aji contributed to this report from Damascus, Syria.