A pro-government Syrian newspaper said that opposition fighters have killed 115 policemen and wounded 50 in a battle over a police academy in the country's north. The daily Al-Watan reported on Monday that “terrorists committed a massacre” at the academy near the northern city of Aleppo.
On Sunday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the opposition seized the academy in Khan al-Asal after entering the sprawling government complex with captured tanks.
It said the battle left at least 120 soldiers and 80 opposition fighters dead.
The Syrian conflict started in March 2011 as a popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's authoritarian rule, then turned into a full-blown civil war.
The Syrian opposition chief visited opposition-held suburbs of the embattled city of Aleppo for the first time on Sunday as fighters trying to oust Assad made significant strategic advances in the heavily contested northeast. .
Aleppo, the nation's largest city, has been a major front in the nearly 2-year-old conflict. Government forces and opposition forces have been locked in a stalemate there since July.
Mouaz al-Khatib met with Syrians living in the two opposition-held Aleppo suburbs of Manbah and Jarablus, a statement said. The stated goal of his trip to Manbah and Jarablus - the first since he was named the leader of the Syrian National Coalition late last year -- was inspecting living conditions.
But his foray into the edge of Aleppo also could be an attempt to boost his group's standing among civilians and fighters on the ground, many of whom see the Western-backed political leadership in exile as irrelevant and out of touch.
The areas along the country's northern border with Turkey are largely ruled by rival brigades and fighter units that operate autonomously and have no links to the political opposition.
Al-Khatib's visit came as the opposition captured a police academy west of Aleppo after an eight-day battle that left more than 200 Syrian soldiers and opposition fighters dead, activists said. Anti-Assad fighters also stormed a central prison in the northern city of Raqqa and captured the Rabiya border crossing in the east along Syria's border with Iraq, activists said. Iraqi officials said the crossing in the country's northern Ninevah province has been closed.
The territorial gains are a significant blow to Assad, although his forces have regained control of several villages and towns along a key highway near Aleppo International Airport - an achievement that could signal the start of a decisive battle for Syria's commercial capital.
The Britain-based anti-regime group The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the opposition seized control of the police academy in Khan al-Asal after entering the sprawling government complex with tanks they had captured from Assad's troops in previous battles.
Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said at least 120 regime soldiers and 80 opposition fighters were killed in the fighting. He said the opposition now control all buildings inside the complex, which was abandoned by Assad's forces early on Sunday.
The Syrian conflict started in March 2011 as a popular uprising against Assad's authoritarian rule, then turned into a full-blown civil war after the opposition took up arms to fight a government crackdown on dissent. The United Nations says than 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting.
Assad said he is ready for dialogue with armed opposition and militants, but only if they surrender their weapons. Recently, the Syrian government offered to participate in talks, but didn't address the question of laying down arms.