Syrian rebels have captured large parts of a police academy in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo after an eight-day battle, an NGO said on Sunday.
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, almost 200 troops and rebels were killed in the ongoing battle for control of the police academy.
The rising death toll came amid reports that Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad, had given a rare interview with the UK's Sunday Times newspaper. Assad said the notion that the country's civil war is connected to his leadership is "nonsense" and blamed western nations, the UK included, for contributing to the ongoing violence in Syria.
The interview — Assad's first with western media in over a year — caught exceptional flack from British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who called the Syrian leader's comments "delusional."
BBC News reported that more than 34 government soldiers were killed on Sunday alone. While government forces have reportedly regained control of villages between Hama and Aleppo, Sunday's killings may serve as a setback.
Later on Sunday, Syria's opposition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib made a first visit to the largely rebel-held Aleppo, an opposition source told AFP.
"Khatib entered the country for a few hours on Sunday morning for the first time" since becoming head of the Syrian National Coalition in November, the source said on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, in northern Raqa province, rebels seized control of a prison late Saturday, freeing hundreds of prisoners, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, AFP reported.
About 70,000 people have been killed since the conflict began 23 months ago, the UN has estimated, Al Arabiya reported.
Watch Hague comment on Assad's interview in this video from the Guardian: