Syrian rebels claim capture of Raqqa, topple statue of Assad (VIDEO)


The shadows of armed Free Syrian Army rebels are seen on a wall at the entrance to the north Syrian city of Binnish on Feb. 15, 2012.


Bulent Kilic

Syrian rebels routed government forces from the city Raqqa on Monday, marking their reported military triumph by pulling down a big statue of President Bashar Assad's father, said Reuters, citing activists. 

If confirmed, the taking of the city would be the rebels' first capture of an entire city, according to the Associated Press -- and a provincial capitol at that, added Reuters

Rebels already control parts of other major Syrian cities, including some Damascus suburbs, but Raqqa could signal a breakthrough in their months-long fight to overthrow Assad, a conflict believed to have taken nearly 70,000 lives over the past 23 months. 

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Raqqa lies on the Euphrates river in the country's north. It was not immediately clear to what extent the rebels had been able to secure the city or completely clear it of regime fighters.

The UK-based Syrian rights authority, the Observatory for Human Rights, said the rebels had won "near-total control" of the city, reported Agence-France Press, while activists claimed the city had been "liberated" in messages spread on social media on Monday, said AP. However, some told Reuters that Assad's forces had holed up outside the city at the provincial airport and could potentially cause trouble.

Here's a video of of the statue of the late Assad being toppled in Raqqa, courtesy of AP