Syria mosque shelling kills cleric; Aleppo rebels advance

AFP-JIJI

Syrian Army shelling of a mosque in the central city of Homs killed a prominent cleric Friday, and Islamists rebels in Aleppo made a fresh advance, a monitoring group said.

“Two people were killed in shelling by regime troops of the Raees mosque in the Waar neighbourhood” of Homs city, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The group’s director, Rami Abdel Rahman, said one of those killed was Sufwan Mashraqa, a Sunni Muslim cleric who was leading Friday prayers in the mosque.

Mashraqa was a former head of the city’s department for religious affairs.

Amateur video distributed by activists showed the cleric giving a sermon. When the sound of shelling began, scores of prayer-goers in the mosque were overtaken by panic.

Homs’s majority Sunni district of Waar is located near a small section of the city that is still under rebel control.

It has become home to tens of thousands of people who have fled other parts of the city. Waar sees daily fighting and shelling.

Elsewhere in Syria, Islamist rebels and jihadists battling to topple President Bashar Assad made a fresh advance in Aleppo, taking control of Kindi hospital in the north of the city, the Observatory said.

“We have confirmed reports that the Islamists and the Al-Nusra Front” — an al-Qaida affiliate also known as Jabhat al-Nusra — “have taken near-total control of the Kindi hospital, and that they killed at least 20 regular troops there,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

The fighters have also taken dozens of regulars prisoner, he added.

The takeover, Abdel Rahman said, came after “two Al-Nusra Front fighters detonated themselves at checkpoints guarding the facility.”

Once a hospital, the facility was turned into a base for Assad loyalist troops several months ago.

Speaking via the Internet, Abu Omar said the latest advance “gives fighters in the north of the city easier access to the nearby countryside.”

Shahba Press, a network of citizen journalists in Aleppo, said the takeover “comes a year into a (rebel) siege” of the facility.

Activists reported the death while covering the battle for the Kindi hospital of a photographer, Molhem Barakat, who was just 18 years old, according to Aleppo-based citizen journalist Mohammad Wissam.

The Aleppo Media Center, a network of activists in the city, distributed a photograph of Barakat’s blood-stained camera.

In southern Syria’s Jassem, the number of people killed from a Thursday aerial attack using TNT-packed crude barrels has risen to 17, said the Observatory. Among them were four children, it added.

Near Damascus, fresh fighting broke out in Maalula, an ancient Christian town located in the Qalamoun mountains.

The fighting pitted rebels and al-Qaida-linked jihadists against troops backed by paramilitary fighters.

More than 126,000 people have been killed in Syria’s war since March 2011, and millions have been forced to flee their homes.