Middle East

Syria crisis: Warplanes 'bomb Raqqa after rebel gains'

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Media captionAmateur footage appears to show a statue of President Assad's late father, Hafez al-Assad, being toppled in Raqqa

Syrian warplanes have bombed the northern city of Raqqa, hours after reports said rebels had overrun it, activists and residents say.

Activists said at least 20 rebels and a civilian, and an unconfirmed number of troops, were killed in air strikes and in fresh fighting there.

Rebels captured the provincial governor when they routed regime forces in the city on Monday.

If the city falls it would mark a significant victory for the rebels.

"The centre of the city is being bombarded by warplanes. I counted 60 rockets," Reuters news agency quoted an unnamed resident as saying.

Government forces had been sent to retake the city, Sharif Shihada, a member of the Syrian parliament, told al-Jazeera television, Reuters said.

Rebels had taken control of most of Raqqa but there were still pockets of resistance, including inside the intelligence building in the city, activists said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based activist group, said 20 rebel fighters and "tens of regular soldiers" were killed in fighting on Tuesday, while a civilian was shot dead by a sniper.

The SOHR said there were reports of further casualties from air strikes.

The SOHR is one of the most prominent organisations documenting and reporting incidents and casualties in the Syrian conflict. The group says its reports are impartial, though its information cannot be independently verified.

Unverified video footage purported to show at least two explosions hitting the city centre square, shortly after crowds had toppled a statue of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad.

People were seen fleeing in panic, with casualties scattered on the ground.

The cameraman is heard to say: "War plane shelling... God is greater than you, Bashar [al-Assad]... The injured have fallen."

Raqqa, situated on the Euphrates River near the Turkish border, has been a refuge for hundreds of thousands of Syrians who fled the violence in other parts of the country.

According to Reuters, some residents had pleaded with rebels not to enter the city, fearing it would bring retribution from government forces.

Governor captured

Image caption Footage appeared to show the governor (right) and a senior ruling party official taken captive

Late on Monday, rebels fought their way into governor Hassan Jalili's palace, taking him and the ruling Baath party's secretary general for Raqqa province, Suleiman Suleiman, captive.

Amateur video appeared to show the two men seated, surrounded by jubilant rebels.

"All we want is to get rid of the regime," a voice is heard telling the two captives.

The SOHR described Mr Jalili's seizure as "the highest profile capture by rebels of a regime official".

According to the SOHR, a high-ranking state security officer was also taken captive by rebels, and a senior police official was killed.