With a gigantic explosion, Syrian rebels Thursday leveled a historic hotel being used as an army base in the northern city of Aleppo by detonating bomb-packed tunnels beneath it, activists and militants said.
The blast near Aleppo’s medieval citadel, an imposing city landmark that once was swarming with tourists, killed an unknown number of soldiers. It turned the Carlton Hotel, known for its elegant architecture and proximity to the citadel, into a pile of rubble.
The attack was a powerful statement that the rebels still could deal heavy blows elsewhere in Syria even as they withdrew from Homs, surrendering that city to President Bashar Assad’s forces.
In Homs, 95 miles south of Aleppo, army troops were poised to enter the city’s old quarters after hundreds of fighters complete their evacuation, which was suspended after gunmen in northern Syria prevented trucks carrying aid from entering two villages besieged by rebels. The aid delivery was part of the cease-fire agreement allowing rebels to leave Homs for rebel-held areas farther north.
Earlier, footage from Homs broadcast by the pro-Syrian Al-Manar TV showed rebels, many of them covering their faces with masks and carrying backpacks, boarding a green bus, its windows covered with newspapers.
An Associated Press journalist who visited Homs on Thursday reported massive destruction.
Standing near the city’s main square, known as the Clock Square, the streets appeared almost apocalyptic. Even the trees were burnt.