Syrians make their way past buildings destroyed in fighting between rebels… (Miguel Medina / AFP/Getty…)
BEIRUT — Fierce clashes were reported Thursday in an area of north-central Syria where antigovernment rebels earlier seized a border post across from Turkey.
Word of fighting in Raqqah province suggests that the tribal region, long regarded as a bastion of support for the government of President Bashar Assad, could be the latest battle zone in a conflict that has spread across much of the nation.
The region of Raqqah sits strategically between two heavily contested provinces: Aleppo and Dair Alzour, both featuring raging battles and large swaths of territory in rebel hands.
The opposition said at least 30 people were killed Thursday in the aerial bombardment by government forces of a busy gas station in the Raqqah town of Ain Issa. Unverified video posted online by opposition activists showed billowing black smoke and charred and burning vehicles.
There was no independent confirmation of the incident.
The Syrian government seldom acknowledges use of combat aircraft or shelling. Officials blame the armed opposition — "terrorists," in official nomenclature — for attacking civilian targets and sabotaging infrastructure.
According to the opposition and human rights groups, the Syrian military is increasingly turning to air and artillery strikes, in part to preserve its thinly stretched security forces.
With the uprising in its 19th month, the military has been deployed to ever-expanding theaters of combat, even as defections and high casualty rates batter its ranks.
Rebels said the gas station was south of the border crossing of Tal Abyad, which they reportedly seized Wednesday after heavy fighting.
The Turkish press reported that schools were closed in the nearby Turkish border town of Akcakale after stray bullets from the fighting struck a high school and several houses on the Turkish side.
The Tal Abyad post was at least the third border crossing along the Syrian-Turkish frontier said to have fallen to rebels. The loss of border facilities has highlighted the government's eroding control of the rebellious north. Rebel tricolors now fly along seized border strips.
Apart from their symbolic importance, the border posts can provide key logistics corridors for rebel weapons and other supplies arriving from Turkey.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency reported that the military had inflicted "heavy losses" on "terrorists" in the border zone of Tal Abyad during heavy clashes.
The Raqqah area had been slow to embrace anti-Assad protests that began to sweep the country last year.
In November, Assad visited the provincial capital on a major Muslim holiday and performed prayers, drawing enthusiastic crowds, reported Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab satellite channel. Assad's presence was seen as a gesture of gratitude to a loyal province.
However, antigovernment demonstrators took to the streets of Raqqah's provincial capital months later in March, drawing a fierce government crackdown, Al Jazeera reported.
Elsewhere in Syria, the official news agency reported, security forces killed 100 "Afghani terrorists" near a school in Aleppo, the nation's commercial hub. The government has repeatedly said that Islamic militants from abroad, including Al Qaeda sympathizers, are stoking the conflict.
Rebel commanders in Aleppo, where a two-month battle for control of the city drags on, say that foreign fighters account for no more than 1% of their forces.
Near the capital, Damascus, the government news service said Thursday that a helicopter crashed in an "accident" after it "clipped the tail" of a Syrian passenger jet carrying 200 people. The jet landed safely and there were no casualties, the state news agency said. There was no word on the fate of those in the helicopter.
In recent weeks, rebels have been targeting government aircraft and air bases. The opposition says its forces have shot down several helicopters and jet fighters. The government has not acknowledged that any of its aircraft have been downed.