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Rebels' presence in Syria's al-Raqqa 'matter of time only': minister
Xinhua | March 07, 2013 08:16
By Agencies
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Syria's Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said Wednesday that the rebels' existence in the northeastern city of al-Raqqa "is a matter of time only."

The minister's remarks were carried by the state-run SANA news agency, in which he apparently tried to allay fears about the rebels' presence in al-Raqqa after the rebels backed by the Nusra Front, an offshoot of al-Qaida, stormed the city a couple of days ago.

"The aggression and crimes of the terrorists of Nusra Front in al-Raqqa are the results of their defeats on the hands of the Syrian army in Aleppo and Damascus," the minister was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, the minister reiterated the government calls for national dialogue that would not exclude any stakeholder of the Syrian society.

Earlier in the day, al-Watan daily newspaper said that military reinforcements have reached at the outskirts of al-Raqqa in order to regain control of the city.

"Pitch battles are being fought by the army and security units in several points of the city and its outskirts coupled with fierce resistance by residents against the occupiers (rebels)," the daily newspaper quoted well-placed sources in the city as saying, dismissing all media reports alleging that the rebels taking full control over the city.

According to the paper, the city has been subject to an "armed invasion" by "terrorists and criminals" over the past two days.

Those who have attacked al-Raqqa weren't revolutionaries but " criminals" released from the central prison by the al-Qaida-linked Ahrar al-Sham battalions, the paper said, citing a military source as saying that " few days are separating us from the return of tranquility to the city and its countryside."

Amid the ongoing fierce battles on ground in Syria, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday in Qatar that the US administration has become more confident that weapons sent to the rebels in Syria by regional countries, such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are falling in the hands of the moderate rebels, not the radical members.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency said Wednesday that the number of Syrians who fled the country since the beginning of crisis two years ago hit one million people.

"With a million people in flight, millions more displaced internally, and thousands of people continuing to cross the border every day, Syria is spiraling towards full-scale disaster," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said.

"This tragedy has to be stopped," he added.

Syria has been witnessing unrest for nearly two years. The UN statistics placed the death toll in Syria turmoil at almost 70,000 people.

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