Syrian rebels capture Al-Ward oilfield, fighter pilot as blast rocks Damascus
Insurgents make gains as they are blamed for explosion near hotel that wounds 11 civilians
Rebels seized a major oilfield and shot down a warplane in eastern Syria yesterday, a watchdog said, notching up new battlefield successes even as the main opposition met in Qatar under US pressure for a makeover.
State media, meanwhile, reported that a blast shook the area near the Dama Rose hotel in the heart of Damascus, wounding 11 civilians. It blamed the explosion on "terrorists" - the regime's term for armed rebels.
The hotel hosted UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi during his visits to Damascus. The office of the Ombudsman, headed by diplomat Mokhtar Lamani, is also there.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the seizure of the eastern oilfield marked a first by the opposition since the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad's regime erupted in March last year.
"Rebels in the Jaafar Tayyar Brigade took control of Al-Ward oilfield, east of the town of Mayadin, after a siege that lasted several days," said the watchdog, which is based in Britain.
Yesterday's fighting began at dawn and lasted several hours, said observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman, adding that 40 soldiers guarding the facility were either killed, wounded or taken prisoner.
The observatory later announced that rebels in Deir Ezzor had shot down a warplane, citing local witnesses. The group said initial reports indicated that the pilot had been captured.
The escalating conflict and rising death toll added urgency to a meeting of the opposition Syrian National Council in Qatar, with the United States reportedly pressing for a new umbrella organisation to unite the country's fractured regime opponents.