The bloodied corpse of a police commander lay riddled with bullets on an Aleppo pavement on Tuesday, testimony to a fierce fightback by Syrian rebels against an army offensive in the commercial capital.
Ali Nasser, the feared chief of the main police station in southern Aleppo, had made a run for it as the rebels closed in on his headquarters in the Salhin district after fierce fighting through the night.
He made it just 100 metres before being mowed down in a hail of bullets, an AFP correspondent reported.
The rebels hailed a major victory. The police station was a major strategic objective in their efforts to cement their control over the south of the city, said Abdel Khader al-Sater, a commander of the Liwa Al-Tawhid Al-Mujahedeen (United Mujahedeen Brigade), one of the main rebel factions in Aleppo.
Jubilant fighters said Nasser had paid the price for the wave of repression he had overseen during the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, now in its 17th month.
The attack began at 11:00 pm (2000 GMT) on Monday, with fighters converging from the rebel-held districts of Marjeh and Sakhur to the east and Al-Shaar in the city centre.
They were joined by fighters from other parts of the city. One told AFP they had “come spontaneously after hearing that a large battle was in the making.”
Rebels killed two police officers who attempted to escape during the night.
The security forces responded by strafing the area from helicopter gunships, but around 6:00 am (0300 GMT) the rebel force took up position around the police station.
At 6:45 am, rebel fighters used a car to hurl a large gas cylinder rigged with explosives at the front of the building but the detonator failed.
Less than two hours later, the police chief attempted his escape from his besieged headquarters accompanied by another officer, who was also killed.
A further five officers then surrendered leaving just a single officer inside when the rebels finally overran it at 10:20 am (0720 GMT).
The jubilant fighters ransacked the hated symbol of the regime before setting it ablaze.
A crowd of curious civilians gathered to view the destruction but within an hour they took flight in the face of new attack by a helicopter gunship, the AFP correspondent said.
Rebels released video footage later Tuesday that they said showed their assault on the police station. Fighters are seen weaving their way towards the entrance of a sandbagged building amid cries of victory.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 40 police were killed in the rebels’ capture of the Salhin police station and another in the nearby Bab al-Nayrab district.
The Britain-based watchdog said that later Tuesday rebel fighters captured a third Aleppo police station, in the Hanano neighbourhood.