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Syria rebels, regime fight in prison

Fighting tied to jailbreak try; Internet restored

BEIRUT — Rebel fighters battled regime troops inside the walls of the sprawling central prison compound in Syria’s largest city Wednesday, hours after blowing open the gate with twin car bombs in an attempted jailbreak, activists said.

The orchestrated assault began at dawn, but by nightfall, the rebels had not dislodged regime forces or freed some 4,000 prisoners held there, according to two pro-opposition monitoring groups.

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Across Syria, the Internet was restored after a blackout of more than eight hours, the second nationwide outage in a week. Syria’s Communications Ministry blamed a rebel bombing which it said cut a cable north of the capital of Damascus but gave no details. Earlier, the state news agency SANA had linked the outage to a technical problem.

At the United Nations, the General Assembly voted 107-12 with 59 abstentions to approve an Arab-backed resolution calling for a political transition in Syria and condemning President Bashar Assad’s regime for ‘‘gross violations’’ of human rights.

Earlier this month, the United States and Russia agreed on a joint push to get Syria’s political opposition and representatives of the Assad regime to negotiate a peaceful transition in Syria. An international conference, possibly to be held in early June, would help launch such talks.

However, both the opposition and the regime have said they want to hear more about the agenda, the venue and the participants before signing up. The two sides remain far apart on the terms for such negotiations, with the opposition insisting Assad must step down first and the regime unwilling to commit to an open-ended cease-fire.

British Prime Minister David Cameron called for urgent action to pressure the Syrian government and opposition to put forward names for a transitional government that everyone can support so negotiations can get started.

Meanwhile, a senior Israeli official signaled Wednesday that Israel was considering further military strikes on Syria to stop the transfer of advanced weapons to Islamic militants, and he warned Assad that his government would face crippling consequences if it retaliated against Israel.

The Israeli official said: “Israel is determined to continue to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah. The transfer of such weapons to Hezbollah will destabilize and endanger the entire region.”

“If Syrian President Assad reacts by attacking Israel, or tries to strike Israel through his terrorist proxies,” the official said, “he will risk forfeiting his regime, for Israel will retaliate.”

The Syria conflict began with a popular uprising in March 2011 and escalated into a civil war that has claimed more than 70,000 lives. Despite the new diplomatic initiative, fighting has continued.

On Wednesday, rebels launched an assault on the central prison in the northern city of Aleppo after weeks of fighting in the area, in an attempt to free some 250 regime opponents believed to be held there, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a local activist group, the Aleppo Media Center.

The attack began with two car bombs detonated at the entrance of the prison, the Observatory said. The Observatory and the Media Center said rebel fighters then surged into the compound and seized one of the buildings.

By Wednesday evening, battles continued to rage inside the compound, the Observatory said. The group said at least 15 regime soldiers were killed, although it did not have the number of rebel casualties.

Material from The New York Times was used in this report.
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