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French photographer killed by flying shrapnel in Syria as rebels launch fresh offensive on police academy in Aleppo

A French photographer has been killed by flying shrapnel in Syria while covering operations of an armed opposition group.

The French government said today Olivier Voisin had been working for Reporters Without Borders near the northwestern city of Idlib.

Mr Voisin, who was born in 1974, was taken to the international hospital in the Turkish border city of Antakya on Friday but died from wounds to his head and arm.

He was a freelance photographer and had also covered events in Libya, Somalia, Haiti and Kenya.

His death came as rebels backed by captured tanks launched a fresh offensive on a government complex housing a police academy on the outskirts of northern city of Aleppo today.

The assault prompted government forces to respond with airstrikes in a bid to try and protect the strategic installation.

If rebels capture the complex, it would mark another setback for President Bashar Assad's regime.

In recent weeks, it has lost control of key infrastructure in the northeast, including a hydroelectric dam, a major oil field and two army bases along the road linking Aleppo with the airport to its east.

Rebels have also been hitting the heart of the capital Damascus with occasional mortars shells or bombings, posing a stiff challenge to Assad's regime in its seat of power.

Yesterday, opposition fighters in the east province of Deir el-Zour overran a site known as al-Kibar, which was home to what is believed to have been a partly built nuclear reactor that Israeli warplanes bombed in 2007.

A year after the strike, the UN nuclear watchdog determined that the destroyed building's size and structure fit specifications of a nuclear reactor. Syria never stated the purpose of the site.

After the bombing, the regime carted away all the debris from the destroyed building and equipment from the two standing structures, analysts said, adding that the rebels were unlikely to have found any weapons in the abandoned complex.

Mustafa Alani, an analyst with the Gulf Research Center in Geneva, said: 'It's more or less a shell because the Syrians decided to remove everything inside the buildings. I don't think there's anything left really of any value for the rebels.'

Rebels have been trying for months to storm the government complex west of Aleppo in the suburb of Khan al-Asal, according to Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The facility also includes several smaller army outposts charged with protecting the police academy inside the compound.

Aleppo has been the scene of some of the heaviest fighting of Syria's nearly two-year-old conflict.

In July, rebels launched an offensive on the city, Syria's largest and one-time commercial capital, and quickly seized several neighbourhoods. The battle has since devolved into a bloody stalemate, with heavy street fighting that has left whole districts in ruins and forced thousands to flee.

Rebels have also been trying for weeks to capture Aleppo's International Airport. There were no reports of fighting for the airport today, but there have been battles around a section of the road the army has been using to transport troops and supplies to a military base within the airport complex.

On Friday, regime forces fired three missiles into a rebel-held area in eastern Aleppo, flattening several buildings and killing 37 people, according to the Observatory. It said the strike apparently involved ground-to-ground missiles.

A similar attack on Tuesday in another impoverished Aleppo neighbourhood killed at least 33 people, almost half of them children.

The Observatory reported a similar attack today on the town of Tal Rifat, 20 miles north of Aleppo. There was no immediate word on casualties.

Also today, a French freelance photographer Olivier Voisin, who was wounded on Thursday in Syria and taken to Turkey for treatment, died of his wounds at an Istanbul hospital, the French Foreign Ministry said.

The United Nations says at least 70,000 people have been killed since Syria's uprising against Assad's authoritarian rule began nearly two years ago. Efforts to stop the bloodshed in Syria so far have failed, leaving the international community at a loss of how to end the civil war.

A senior Syrian opposition leader said that his umbrella group has suspended participation in meetings with its Western backers and their Arab allies because of their indifference over the regime's attacks on the Syrian people in Aleppo and in other cities.

George Sabra, vice president of the Syrian National Coalition, told reporters in Cairo after meeting the Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby: 'Assad has reached the stage of real genocide amid Arab silence and we renounce that.

In Washington, the State Department condemned rocket attacks on Aleppo, saying the strikes are the 'latest demonstrations of the Syrian regime's ruthlessness and its lack of compassion for the Syrian people it claims to represent'.

[Source: By Alex Gore, Daily Mail, London, 24Feb13]

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small logoThis document has been published on 01Mar13 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.