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Rebel leadership announces move from Turkey to Syria

Story highlights

  • At least 220 people are reportedly killed across Syria on Saturday
  • The Lebanese army reports a Syrian rebel incursion
  • Three opposition members are in the hands of Air Force intelligence, a group says

The leadership of the rebel Free Syrian Army is moving from Turkey into Syrian territories its fighters seized, its leader said Saturday.

FSA head Riad al-Asaad made the announcement in a video posted online. The move is a milestone for the rebel group, which formed last year. It grew steadily as soldiers defecting from President Bashar al-Assad's army signed up to fight against the regime.

Over the months, the FSA leadership had been based in Turkey, making it tough to coordinate with rebel brigades across Syria.

"We tell all of you that the leadership of the Free Syrian army has entered into the liberated areas," al-Asaad said.

He didn't say precisely where the command will be based.

The next step, he said: "Start the plan to liberate Damascus soon."

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Jeffrey White, a defense analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, recently cited "improving rebel military capabilities in terms of organization, numbers and weapons."

In an August essay, he said recent battles in Damascus and Aleppo show the "regime can no longer be confident of securing even the most critical parts of the country."

"The fighting also demonstrates how far the armed opposition has come, and how difficult the regime's military position has become," White wrote.

"From a small number of isolated, indifferently armed and ill-trained "battalions," a much more competent armed opposition has emerged -- one capable of challenging the regime in critical areas despite its own persistent faults."

Here's a roundup of other recent developments in Syria's 18-month-long conflict:

Lebanese army reports Syrian rebel incursion

Syrian rebels attacked a Lebanese army position overnight, the army said Saturday, underscoring fears that fighting in the Syrian civil war will spill into other countries and stoke a wider conflict.

"For the second time in less than a week, a force from the Free Syrian Army enters the Lebanese territory in Jroud, Arsal area," according to an army command statement reported by the official Lebanese news agency.

"They attacked overnight one of the Lebanese army positions backed by a large number of armed men without causing any injuries in the ranks of the Lebanese army."

Military reinforcements have been deployed and were pursuing the attackers, who fled after the incursion, the army said.

"The leadership of the army confirms that it will not allow any party to use Lebanese territory in order to implicate Lebanon in the events of the neighboring countries," the army said.

Syrian's state-run news outlet, the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), said an "armed terrorist group" suffered heavy losses from Syrian forces after it tried to infiltrate Syria from Lebanon.

The incident occurred in Syria's Homs province.

Number of deaths rise above 200

Government forces shelled Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs on Saturday, an opposition group said.

At least 220 people were killed Saturday in fighting across the country, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said. The deaths included 66 in Damascus and its suburbs, 43 in Hama province, and 60 in Aleppo province.

Sixteen were killed in Jobar and 13 people died in the Damascus suburb of Hojeira when regime forces shelled a bus, the LCC said. The forces executed six members of a family in Qadam, also in the suburbs, the network of opposition activists said.

Government forces shelled five neighborhoods in the city of Aleppo, taking civilian lives, the group added.

SANA said government forces killed "terrorists" -- a term it uses to describe rebel fighters -- in Aleppo and destroyed 40 opposition gun-mounted vehicles. Fighting has raged for weeks in the city of Aleppo, the most populous in Syria.

In the city of Hama, regime forces surrounded the Mashaa Arbaeen neighborhood and bulldozed homes.

The Red Crescent pulled 35 bodies from under the rubble in the neighborhood, the LCC said.

Three opposition figures in government custody, group says

Three members of the opposition National Coordination Body for Democratic Change are in the hands of Syrian authorities, the group said Saturday.

They are Abdelaziz al-Khayer, Iyas Ayash and Maher Tahan. All three were detained by Syrian Air Force Intelligence personnel after leaving Damascus International Airport on Thursday, the group said.

Al-Khayer and Ayash had just returned to Damascus from China. Tahan came to pick them up.

"We at the National Coordination Body hold the Syrian Authority completely responsible for the physical and mental well being of our members," the group said in a statement. "We demand that the Syrian regime free them immediately!"

The government's Information Ministry said the three were "kidnapped by terrorists on the airport highway," SANA reported Friday, and warned the perpetrators of "legal repercussions."