(MENAFN - Arab News) ATMA, Syria: Regime aircraft hammered insurgent bastions nationwide yesterday as rebels said they now control most of the country and have moved their command center from Turkey to "liberated areas" inside Syria.
With deadly violence raging across Syria, UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi prepared to brief the UN Security Council today about talks he had with both President Bashar Assad and the opposition.
On the ground, over 40 people were killed yesterday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, as Syrian aircraft carried out strikes on rebel bastions, especially in central Homs province and Deir Ezzor in the east.
Apartment blocks in Albu Kamal, a town in oil-rich Deir Ezzor province, were targeted as rebels and soldiers battled on the ground in several districts of the town on the Iraqi border.
"The insurgents are trying to wrest control of this strategic town" said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman. Losing Albu Kamal would be "a deadly blow for the regime," he added.
Troops pounded rebel-held areas in and around Damascus, in the second city Aleppo in the north, neighboring Idlib, the central cities of Hama and Homs, and Daraa in the south.
The Britain-based group, which gathers information from a network of activists on the ground, said warplanes also raided Jebel Al-Akrad in the coastal province of Latakia.
In Aleppo, rebels destroyed two fighter planes on the ground in Orm, a rebel commander told AFP, while a correspondent in the city itself said fighting was less intense than past days.
Security forces also carried out raids and arrested several civilians in the southern Damascus neighborhood of Al-Hajar Al-Aswad while anti-regime protests in Salhiyeh, another district in the capital, the Observatory said.
As the fighting continued unabated, Col. Ahmad Abdul Wahab of the Free Syrian Army said the regime's aerial superiority was the only thing preventing the FSA from taking control of the capital.
"We control most of the country. In most regions, the soldiers are prisoners
of their barracks. They go out very little and we can move freely everywhere, except Damascus," Abdul Wahab told AFP.
"With or without outside help, the fall of the regime is a question of months, not years," he said.
"If we had anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles, we could quickly gain the advantage. But if foreign countries don't give us these, we will still win. It will take longer, that's all."
Abdul Wahab, a colonel in the regular army only nine months ago, said his defection was driven by "the magnitude of the crimes of the regime, which is killing its own people." He said he commands four katibas (battalions) which make up the "Nasser Salaheddine" brigade in Aleppo and the region.
Abdul Wahab said he attends daily meetings with FSA leaders in the northern metropolis, where orders are given to him and other battalion commanders.
Meanwhile, Assad's only sister, Bushra, whose husband was killed in a July bombing, is now living in Dubai with her children, Syrian residents of the Gulf emirate told AFP.
Bushra's husband Gen. Assef Shawkat, an army deputy chief of staff, was killed along with three other high-ranking officials in a July 18 bombing at the National Security headquarters in Damascus. Ayman Abdel Nour, editor-in-chief of opposition news website all4syria.com, said Bushra, a pharmacist with five children, left Syria after "differences" with the president.
And in Damascus, 20 government-tolerated opposition parties met yesterday to discuss a solution to the crisis in the presence of the ambassadors of Russia and Iran, staunch allies of Assad's government.
Raja Al-Nasser of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change called at the meeting for an end to the "barbaric bombing" to move toward a political process that would "put an end to the current regime."
According to the Observatory, at least 29,000 people have been killed since the revolt against Assad's rule erupted. The United Nations puts the toll at more than 20,000.
With Bushra's departure, Assad now has only his brother Maher, who commands the notorious Fourth Brigade, in the country.
Their other two brothers, Bassel and Majd, are dead.
Bassel, who was groomed by his father - Syria's former president Hafez
Assad - to succeed in power had opposed Bushra's marriage to Shawkat and put the latter behind bars on four separate occasions to ensure he would stay away from his sister.
But Bassel's death in a January 1994 car accident enabled the marriage to go ahead a year later.
Majd, of whom little is known, died of unspecified illness in 2009.