BEIRUT — Rebels backed by captured tanks launched a fresh offensive on a government complex housing a police academy near the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday, while the government hit back with airstrikes to try to protect the strategic installation, activists said.
If rebels capture the complex on the outskirts of Aleppo, it would mark another setback for President Bashar Assad. In recent weeks, his regime has lost control of key infrastructure in the northeast, including a hydroelectric dam, a major oil field and two army bases along the road linking Aleppo with the airport to its east.
Rebels also have been hitting the heart of Damascus with occasional mortars shells or bombings, posing a stiff challenge to the regime in its seat of power.
On Saturday, opposition fighters in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour overran a military post believed to have once been the site of a partly built nuclear reactor that Israeli warplanes bombed in 2007.
A year after the strike, the UN nuclear watchdog determined that the destroyed building’s size and structure fit specifications of a nuclear reactor. Syria never stated the purpose of the site known as Al-Kibar.
After the bombing, the regime carted away all the debris from the destroyed building and equipment from the two standing structures, analysts said, adding that the rebels were unlikely to have found any weapons in the abandoned complex.
There were troops in the area until this weekend. It was not clear what the site was being used for most recently.
‘‘It’s more or less a shell because the Syrians decided to remove everything inside the buildings,’’ said Mustafa Alani, an analyst with the Gulf Research Center in Geneva. ‘‘I don’t think there’s anything left really of any value for the rebels.’’
Separately, rebels have been trying for months to storm the government complex west of Aleppo in the suburb of Khan al-Asal, according to Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The facility also includes several smaller army outposts charged with protecting the police academy inside the compound.
The state-run SANA state news agency said regime troops repelled the rebel attack on the police academy, inflicting heavy losses and destroying four armored vehicles and three cars fitted with machine guns. There was no word on government casualties.
A key focus for the rebels as they try to capture the city is Aleppo’s international airport, which they have been attacking for weeks.
Regime forces also fired an apparent ground-to-ground missile Sunday on the town of Tal Rifat, some 20 miles north of Aleppo, the Observatory said. There was no immediate word on casualties.
The report follows similar strikes last week on impoverished rebel-held Aleppo neighborhoods that killed at least 60 people.
Also on Sunday, prominent Syrian comedian Yassin Bakoush, 75, was killed in Damascus after apparently being caught in the crossfire between rebels and government troops.
SANA said Bakoush was killed by a rebel mortar round that landed on his car in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus, which has seen heavy fighting in recent months.
However, the antiregime Observatory said Bakoush was killed when a rocket-propelled grenade launched by government forces slammed into his car.
French freelance photographer Olivier Voisin, who was wounded on Thursday in Syria and taken to Turkey for treatment, died of his wounds at an Istanbul hospital, the French Foreign Ministry said Sunday.
Voisin is the second French journalist this year to be killed while reporting on the civil war.