Syrian rebels gained control of a strategic hospital near Aleppo, despite days of relentless bombing of opposition-held areas in the northern city, activists said Saturday.
The shattered remains of the five-story Kindi hospital is close to the besieged central prison on the edge of town, which rebels have been trying to capture for months to free their comrades.
The rebels captured the hospital on Friday, according to two activist groups — the Aleppo Media Center and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Aleppo-based activist Abu al-Hassan Marea said the rebels who overran the hospital included both conservative Muslim groups and Al-Qaiea linked factions.
At least 35 rebels were killed in the battle for Kindi, the activists said. It was not clear how many soldiers were killed.
A teenage Syrian photographer, Molhem Barakat, was also killed in the fighting, activists said. Barakat was with his brother, a Syrian rebel, inside a carpet factory near the hospital when they were both killed, said Hassoun Abu Faisal of the Aleppo Media Center. Activists also circulated a photograph of Barakat's corpse, which matched other images of him.
Abu Faisal said Barakat began working as a photographer about five months ago. He said the teenager was considered particularly talented and quickly sold photographs to foreign news outlets.
Syria is one of the world's most dangerous places for reporters. The Committee to Project Journalists says 22 journalists have been killed in Syria this year, not counting Barakat. More than 30 journalists are believed to be currently held by the Syrian government or rebel forces.
Meanwhile, Syrian government forces continued dumping so-called barrel bombs — containers containing hundreds of pounds (kilograms) of explosives and fuel — over opposition-held parts of Aleppo. The British-based Observatory said at least six people were killed in Saturday's shelling, but other groups gave higher tolls. At least 100 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the Aleppo bombings the past week.
Syria's civil war, now into its third year, has killed more than 120,000 people, according to activists, while millions have been forced from their homes by the fighting.
Syrian officials have not commented on the shelling in Aleppo, the country's largest city and once its commercial hub.
Aleppo has been a major front in the civil war since the rebels launched an offensive there in mid-2012. The city has been carved into opposition- and government-held areas.
The escalation comes ahead of peace talks scheduled to begin on Jan. 22 in Switzerland. The timing has sparked speculation that Assad may be trying to strengthen his position on the ground and expose opposition weaknesses before sitting down at the negotiating table.
"I think it will have the reverse effect," said Aleppo-based activist Abu Raed in a Skype interview, as explosions crackled in the background. "The helicopters come. We stop and look. We keep looking until the barrel drops. We shout out God's name. The civil defense comes to dig out people. The media activists go film."
Both Marea and Raed asked that they be identified only by their nicknames, fearing for their own security.