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Syrian jets rake northern city overrun by rebels

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By The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

Syrian jets bombed opposition-held buildings in the strategic northern city of Raqqa on Tuesday, a day after rebels overran the onetime regime stronghold and captured its provincial governor. A toppled statue of President Bashar Assad's father was defaced with graffiti reading, “Tomorrow will be better.”

The rebels continued to battle pockets of government troops in Raqqa, struggling to crush the remaining resistance in the city of 500,000 people on the Euphrates River.

If successful, it would be the first major city they would completely control in the civil war, and it would consolidate their recent gains in the northern Syrian towns along the historic river that runs from Turkey to Iraq.

“This is the beginning, and other Syrian cities will soon fall, one by one God willing,” said Mustafa Othman, a Raqqa-based activist who spoke via Skype, with the sounds of gunfire crackling in the background.

But government airstrikes and intermittent clashes, particularly around two security buildings, raised doubt about whether the rebels would be able to maintain their hold on Raqqa, about 120 miles east of the commercial capital of Aleppo.

Rebels have been making headway in Raqqa province for weeks. Last month, they captured the country's largest dam west of the city and this week, they stormed its central prison.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry said the Obama administration is confident that the vast majority of weapons being supplied to Syrian rebels by U.S. allies are going to moderates and not finding their way to extremists.

Speaking in Qatar, one of several Arab nations providing weapons to the rebels, Kerry said he had spoken to Qatari leaders about the matter and said there are now “greater guarantees” that nearly all the arms and ammunition going to the opposition inside Syria are getting into the hands of moderates.

“We did discuss the question of the ability to try to guarantee that it is going to the right people and the moderate Syrian Opposition Coalition and I think it's really in the last months that that has developed as a capacity that we have greater confidence in,” he said at a joint news conference with Qatar's Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim.

Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, the top officer at Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he backed the administration's policy not to arm the rebels because of concerns that weapons still could wind up in extremists' hands.

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