Syria rebels capture oilfield near Iraq

Activists say Syrian rebels have captured an oilfield in the country's east after three days of fierce fighting with government troops protecting the facility.
In the Syrian city of Aleppo, people caught in the middle of the crossfire between government forces and rebel fighters, there is nowhere to hide 4:11

Activists say Syrian rebels have captured an oilfield in the country's east after three days of fierce fighting with government troops protecting the facility.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights' chief Rami Abdul-Rahman says rebels overran the al-Ward oilfield in the province of Deir el-Zour near the border with Iraq on Sunday.

Omar Abu Leila, an activist in the area, says the field was still functioning until shortly before the rebels seized it.

Syria exported some 150,000 barrels of oil a day before European and U.S. imposed sanctions last year.

In 2010, Syria earned $4.4 billion by selling oil to EU countries alone. Oil was the main source of hard currency for the regime until the sanctions took effect.

Battles continue in capital

Also on Sunday, a car bomb exploded near a major hotel in the capital of Damascus, wounding several people.

The powerful blast shook the Dama Rose hotel and shattered much of its glass, according to an AP reporter at the scene. The hotel has been used in the past by UN observers visiting Syria, including the Damascus representative of the new U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.

The bomb, which the state news agency said weighed around 50 kilograms  went off about 500 metres from the army chief-of-staff's building. It's not the first blast to rattle the Dama Rose — on Aug. 15, a bomb attached to a fuel truck exploded outside the hotel, wounding three people.

The pro-government Ikhbariyeh TV said the bomb Sunday was planted under a car parked in an outdoor lot near the government Labor Union building.

[IMAGEGALLERY galleryid=3297 size=small]

The union chief, Mohammad Azouz, told The Associated Press that at least 12 people — all syndicate members — were wounded by shattered glass and two of them are in critical condition.

Regional satellite stations broadcast brief clips from the capital showing a plume of white smoke rising from a building. Azouz said firefighters were putting out a blaze caused by the blast, while ambulances were rushing the wounded to nearby hospitals. He said there were blood stains on the street.

In northeast Raqqa province, the state news agency reported that gunmen assassinated a leading member of the ruling Baath party. It said the gunmen broke into the home of Ismail al-Hamadeh at dawn and sprayed him with bullets as he slept.

Elsewhere in Syria, activists said the army clashed with rebels in the cities of Idlib and Aleppo in the north, in the capital, Damascus, as well as the southern border town of Daraa where the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011.

In the Damascus suburbs of Harasta and al-Hajira, the army and opposition fighters exchanged heavy fire, killing a handful of rebels, SANA said. The army destroyed some rebel vehicles fitted with machine-guns, according to the report.

SANA said that the fiercest fighting took place in Harem on the edge of Idlib, where 30 civilians were killed allegedly in clashes between rebels and the army. SANA said some activists were killed when the army destroyed their enclaves in the area and confiscated their weapons.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Syrian army launched air strikes on rebel hideouts in Idlib's suburbs, mainly Maaret al-Numan, killing an unspecified number of activists.

Opposition considers replacing leadership

Meanwhile, a plan to shake up Syria's opposition leadership and forge a more representative team has won the backing of several key countries, the proposal's author said Sunday from a conference in Doha, Qatar.  However, the plan also has alot of detractors.

The dispute, which reflects the deep rifts that have hobbled the opposition since the Syrian revolt began in March 2011, is to be resolved at a five-day opposition conference that got under way Sunday.

Riad Seif, a prominent Syrian dissident, has proposed to set up a new leadership team of about 50 people, including morerepresentatives from inside Syria, such as military commanders and local leaders in rebel-held areas. Those fighting in Syria, including the rebel Free Syrian Army, have been particularly dismissive of opposition leaders in exile.

Seif's plan would significantly dilute the influence of the current main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, which largely consists of exiles and academics and has been criticized as ineffective and out of touch.