Syrian rebels killed 28 soldiers in attacks on three army checkpoints on the main road from Damascus to the embattled city of Aleppo Thursday, a watchdog said.
Five rebels were also killed in the attacks near the city of Saraqeb in Syria’s northwest, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The rebels did not capture the checkpoints, where they would be exposed to regime air strikes, but did seize several armored vehicles, said the Observatory.
Syria’s northwestern Idlib province has become a key battleground in the country’s conflict, especially after rebel forces seized the town of Maaret al-Numan on the Damascus-Aleppo road early last month.
Fighting has since raged at the Wadi Deif army base near Maaret al-Numan, where rebel forces have laid siege to regime troops.
SNC blames international community
The head of the main opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) on Thursday blamed the international community’s failure to react to the country’s conflict for fuelling Islamic extremist sentiment.
The comments came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the opposition should “strongly resist the efforts by the extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution”.
Speaking to AFP by telephone from Turkey, SNC chairman Abdel Basset Sayda said the situation resulted from the international community’s inaction on Syria.
“The international community is responsible, through its lack of support for the Syrian people, for the growth of extremism in Syria,” said the head of the mainly exiled opposition group.
“The international community should criticize itself, and ask itself: What did it give the Syrian people? How has it helped the Syrians to stop the regime’s crazy killing?” he added.
He also said the SNC needed more tangible assistance to better influence developments on the ground.
“The lack of material backing from the international community for the SNC means that although we strive to ensure that radical Islamism does not have an impact, we are more limited in our capacity than we would like,” he said.
Sayda said the SNC had warned the international community that extremism would rise if it continued to fail to take action to halt the violence in Syria, where more than 36,000 people have died since the launch of an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in March 2011.
“In areas liberated from regime control, there is a natural state of chaos and hopelessness, because of the regime’s continued attacks. In such an atmosphere, it is natural that extremism grows,” he said.
But he insisted the revolution “remains on track”, saying Syria was not a country where radical Islam could take hold.
“Syria is a mixed society, so ultimately a radical Islamist project would never take root in the country,” he said.
The country’s fractured opposition has struggled to find common ground against Assad, especially on the political front.
After a conference in Turkey on Wednesday, opposition members vowed to work for the rapid formation a government-in-exile to win greater support from the international community.
Clinton on Wednesday also criticized the SNC, saying it “can no be longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition.”
“They can be part of the opposition, but the opposition must include people from inside Syria and others.”
The SNC has been repeatedly criticized for failing to represent the full range of the opposition, especially activists inside Syria, and has gone through a series of leadership struggles.
Sayda insisted the council was expanding to be more representative, ahead of a five-day SNC conference starting in Qatar on Sunday.
“We are holding a very important meeting starting November 4 in Doha, at which the SNC will expand,” he said.
“The SNC represents all the branches of Syria’s mixed society, including Islamist, liberal and secular groups,” he said. “There will be Kurdish groups joining the Doha meeting, as well as other new civilian and military groups that will attend.”
Reacting to rumors that longtime opposition figure Riad Seif may be named head of a government-in-exile, Sayda was non-committal.
“I believe we have to wait until we have held our meeting before we can make decisions on who is a good candidate to lead Syria through a transitional phase,” he said.
“We would be jumping the gun if we tried to propose names before consulting with all the actors.”