Syrian rebels on Monday captured a hydroelectric dam on the Euphrates River in the country's north after days of heavy clashes, carting off boxes of ammunition from defeated regime forces in the latest in a string of recent strategic advances for opposition fighters, activists said.
Also Monday, activists said rebels and pro-government Kurdish gunmen struck a truce to end days of fighting in the town of Ras al-Ayn near the border with Turkey that opposition forces entered earlier this month.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebel fighters overran regime defences and captured the Tishrin Dam, near the town of Manbij, before dawn Monday. Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said the dam supplies several areas of Syria with electricity.
"This is a major blow to the regime," said Abdul-Rahman by telephone, describing the dam as "strategic location" on the Euphrates, which flows from Turkey through Syria and into Iraq.
The rebels have scored a series of hard-fought strategic advances recently, perhaps even seizing the momentum in their relentless battle of topple President Bashar Assad's regime. On Sunday, they captured a regime helicopter base outside Damascus before pulling back for fear of government airstrikes.
Amateur videos posted online showed gunmen inside the dam's operations room as an employee sat in front of five screens speaking by telephone about the level of water behind the dam. Another video showed gunman in front of dozens of green wooden boxes apparently full of munitions.
A gunman opened one of the boxes showing that it contained hand grenades. "The Free Syrian Army has fully liberated the Tishrin Dam," one of the rebels could be heard saying.
The activist videos appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting about the events depicted. Syria restricts the access of reporters.
Syria's conflict started in March 2011 as an uprising against Assad's regime, but quickly morphed into a civil war that has since killed more than 40,000 people, according to activists. It has also prompted hundreds of thousands of Syrians to flee to neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey.
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser contributed to this report from Ankara, Turkey.