AMMAN (Reuters) - At least 12 rebel fighters were killed on Monday as they were taking flour from a mill on the eastern outskirts of the capital Damascus, opposition activists said, in their latest setback at the hands of forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
The rebels had only just captured the mill on the Damascus Airport road following a battle that lasted several hours, in the hope that they could relieve a food shortage caused by a siege of the area by loyalist forces for the last two months.
“The Free Syrian Army took over the flour mill after a battle that lasted several hours, but the regime’s forces shelled the area and hit it from the air as the fighters were transporting the flour out of the mill,” activist Abu Kassem al-Shabawi said from the area.
Video footage showed rebels shooting automatic rifles and mounted machineguns as they fought into the large state-owned complex in the Hteitet al-Turkman area on the airport road, 20 kms (12 miles) southeast of Damascus, and combing the site for loyalist forces.
The footage could not be immediately verified. Syrian authorities have banned most independent media since the uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011.
“We do not need you Arabs,” said one fighter as he dipped his hand into a flour bag.
Footage taken later purportedly showed a large explosion, while the sound of a fighter jet could be heard overhead.
The bodies of several fighters with missing heads and limbs were shown lying on tables at a makeshift hospital in the Ghouta district.
Also on Monday, Syrian troops drove insurgents from a central district of Homs, tightening their siege on remaining rebel bastions in the city which links Damascus to the Mediterranean heartland of Assad’s Alawite sect.
Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; editing by Mike Collett-White