Syrian rebels captured early Tuesday a vital bridge across the Euphrates river in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor that could cut off regime supplies to the adjoining province of Hasakeh, a watchdog said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the seizing of the Siyasiyeh bridge and another smaller bridge in Deir Ezzor triggered retaliatory air strikes from the regime forces targeting the two crossings.
The rebels before dawn seized the Siyasiyeh suspension bridge, which straddles the Euphrates and connects the eastern city of Deir Ezzor with Hasakeh, after several days of fierce fighting, the Observatory said.
It said a nearby regime security headquarters was also captured by the advancing rebels.
"Siyasiyeh bridge is the most important in the area, as it connects Deir Ezzor to Hasakeh, and its capture means that army supplies to Hasakeh will be nearly completely severed," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP by telephone.
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Fighters of the rebel Free Syrian Army and Islamist battalions also took over a smaller bridge Dorra in Deir Ezzor, prompting regime forces to retaliate with air strikes on both critical crossings and shelling on several districts, the watchdog said.
"These gains in Deir Ezzor are very important because this strategic city is the gateway to a region rich in oil and gas resources," said Abdel Rahman.
The regime of President Bashar al-Assad still controls the military airport of Deir Ezzor, the provincial capital of the province of the same name, as well as a number of smaller posts and a scout camp turned army base.
"If the rebels continue to progress and gain control of what is left of military-held posts, the Pioneers camp and Deir Ezzor military airport, it will be the first major city to fall into the hands of the rebels," Abdel Rahman said.
Regime troops have already been forced from the vast territory stretching from the provincial capital to the Iraqi border, including the border town of Albu Kamal and its small military airbase.
The Observatory, which compiles its data from a network of activists and medics in civilian and military hospitals on the ground, said that 152 people -- 74 civilians, 47 rebels and 31 soldiers -- were killed nationwide on Monday.