Rebels blow up historic Carlton Hotel hotel in Aleppo, Syria

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Rebels blow up historic Carlton Hotel hotel in Aleppo, Syria
In this Thursday, June 5, 2014 photo, Zeinat Akhras and her brother Ayman pose inside a Greek Orthodox church in Homs, Syria. Akhras, a 65-year-old pharmacist, still bears the effects of more than two years trapped in her home, surrounded by rebel fighters, for nearly two years during the government’s siege on the ancient quarters of the central Syrian city of Homs. She’s still a wispy 83 pounds (38 kilos), even after gaining eight points (four kilos) since the blockade ended in early May with the fall of the rebels in the city. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
In this Thursday, June 5, 2014 photo, Zeinat Akhras and her brother Ayman walk to from home to a church in Homs, Syria. Over the course of the 700-day blockade, Zeinat's world shrunk to her living room and her kitchen. She survived reading books, eating plants _ and refusing to look in the mirror, because seeing her withered state might break her spirit. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
FILE - This file photo released on Thursday Nov. 29, 2012 by the anti-government activist group Homs City Union of The Syrian Revolution, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian citizens walking in a destroyed street that was attacked by Syrian forces warplanes, at Abu al-Hol street in Homs province, Syria. Syria's government and rebels agreed to a ceasefire on Friday, May 2, 2014 in the battleground city of Homs to allow hundreds of fighters holed up in its old quarters to evacuate, a deal that will bring the country's third-largest city under control of forces loyal to President Bashar Assad. (AP Photo/Homs City Union of The Syrian Revolution, File)
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Flames rise from damaged cars at the site where two car bombs exploded at a commercial street inhabited mostly by members of President Bashar Assad's minority Alawite sect, in Homs province, central Syria, Wednesday April 9, 2014. Two car bombs exploded Wednesday in a government-held district of Syria's battleground city of Homs, killing at least 25 people and wounding more than 100, state media said. (AP Photo/SANA)
This photograph made on a military-led media tour shows damage inside the Um al-Zinar church in the old city of Homs, Syria on Friday, May 9, 2014, where bulldozers cleared rubble from the streets of battle-scarred districts in the central Syrian city after government troops entered the last rebel-held neighborhoods as part of an agreement that also granted opposition fighters safe exit from the city. (AP Photo)
In this photograph made on a government-led media tour, Syrian civilians return to Homs, Syria on Friday, May 9, 2014, where bulldozers cleared rubble from the streets of battle-scarred districts in the central Syrian city after government troops entered the last rebel-held neighborhoods as part of an agreement that also granted opposition fighters safe exit from the city. (AP Photo)
In this photograph made on a military-led media tour, Syrian civilians return to their neighborhood in the old city of Homs, Syria on Friday, May 9, 2014, where bulldozers cleared rubble from the streets of battle-scarred districts in the central Syrian city after government troops entered the last rebel-held neighborhoods as part of an agreement that also granted opposition fighters safe exit from the city. (AP Photo)
In this photo made on a military-led media tour, pro-government troops patrol the old city of Homs, Syria on Friday, May 9, 2014. For more than a year, these neighborhoods were rebel bastions blockaded by President Bashar Assad’s troops and pounded by his artillery and air force. But under a deal struck this week, the government assumed control of the Old City, while in return some 2,000 opposition fighters were granted safe passage to opposition areas north of Homs.(AP Photo)
This photograph made on a military-led media tour shows a resident of the old city of Homs, Syria carrying a photograph and a religious figurine after retrieving them on Friday, May 9, 2014. Bulldozers cleared rubble from the streets of battle-scarred districts in the central Syrian city after government troops entered the last rebel-held neighborhoods as part of an agreement that also granted opposition fighters safe exit from the city. (AP Photo)
In this photograph made on a government-led media tour, Syrian civilians fill a city square as they return to Homs, Syria on Friday, May 9, 2014. Bulldozers cleared rubble Friday from the streets of battle-scarred districts in the central Syrian city after government troops entered the last rebel-held neighborhoods as part of an agreement that also granted opposition fighters safe exit from the city. (AP Photo)
In this photograph made on a government-led media tour, Syrian civilians return to Homs, Syria on Friday, May 9, 2014. Bulldozers cleared rubble from the streets of battle-scarred districts in the central Syrian city after government troops entered the last rebel-held neighborhoods as part of an agreement that also granted opposition fighters safe exit from the city. (AP Photo)
This photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian citizens forming the word Homs in Arabic with their bodies, in the Salaheddine district in Aleppo, Syria, Friday, May 9, 2014. Bulldozers cleared rubble Friday from the streets of battle-scarred districts in the central Syrian city of Homs after government troops entered the last rebel-held neighborhoods as part of an agreement that also granted opposition fighters safe exit from the city. The red placard with Arabic that reads,"no more words after Homs." (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC)
This photograph made on a military-led media tour shows damage inside the Um al-Zinar church in the old city of Homs, Syria on Friday, May 9, 2014, where bulldozers cleared rubble from the streets of battle-scarred districts in the central Syrian city after government troops entered the last rebel-held neighborhoods as part of an agreement that also granted opposition fighters safe exit from the city. (AP Photo)
This image made from amateur video posted by Shaam News Network (SNN), an anti-Bashar Assad activist group, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows an explosion that destroyed the Carlton Hotel in Aleppo, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. The rebel-claimed bombing Thursday in the northern Syrian city leveled the once luxurious hotel near the ancient Citadel that government troops used as a military base, causing multiple casualties, activists and militants said.(AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)
This image made from amateur video posted by Shaam News Network (SNN), an anti-Bashar Assad activist group, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows an explosion that destroyed the Carlton Hotel in Aleppo, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. The rebel-claimed bombing Thursday in the northern Syrian city leveled the once luxurious hotel near the ancient Citadel that government troops used as a military base, causing multiple casualties, activists and militants said.(AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)
Syrian government forces look at damages in the old city of Homs, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Syrian President Bashar Assad's government in the north prepared to regain control of the central city of Homs following last week's cease-fire agreement after a fierce, two-year battle with the rebels trying to oust him. Rebels were completing their withdrawal from Homs on Thursday, a day after hundreds of fighters evacuated from the city under the cease-fire deal. (AP Photo)
A mosque is pictured through shattered glass in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014, as rebel fighters withdrew from the city centre in line with a negotiated withdrawal deal with the government after having held out under tight siege for nearly two years. At least 80 percent of rebel fighters have already pulled out of the battleground central Syrian city and the rest will leave later in the day, the provincial governor told AFP. AFP PHOTO/YOUSSEF KARWASHAN (Photo credit should read YOUSSEF KARWASHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian government solider looks at damaged buildings in Homs, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Hundreds of exhausted Syrian rebels withdrew Wednesday from their last remaining strongholds in the heart of Homs, surrendering to President Bashar Assad a bloodstained city that was once the center of the revolt against him. (AP Photo)
Syrian government forces walk on a damaged street in Homs, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Hundreds of exhausted Syrian rebels withdrew Wednesday from their last remaining strongholds in the heart of Homs, surrendering to President Bashar Assad a bloodstained city that was once the center of the revolt against him. (AP Photo)
Syrian government forces look at damages as they walk on a street in the old city of Homs, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Hundreds of exhausted Syrian rebels withdrew Wednesday from their last remaining strongholds in the heart of Homs, surrendering to President Bashar Assad a bloodstained city that was once the center of the revolt against him. For Assad, it is a powerful victory ahead of presidential elections. For the rebels, the dramatic exit after two years of enduring grueling assaults and siege captures their sense of abandonment amid world reluctance to help shift the balance of power on the ground. (AP Photo)
Syrian government officials walk on a road, back dropped, by damaged buildings from fighting with Free Syrian Army fighters in the old city of Homs, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Syrian President Bashar Assad's government in the north prepared to regain control of the central city of Homs following last week's cease-fire agreement after a fierce, two-year battle with the rebels trying to oust him. (AP Photo)
Syrian government forces inspect damages in Homs, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Carrying their rifles and small bags of belongings, hundreds of exhausted Syrian rebels withdrew Wednesday from their last remaining strongholds in the heart of Homs, surrendering to President Bashar Assad a bloodstained city that was once the center of the revolt against him. (AP Photo)
Two Syrian national flags hang on a pole as government officials inspect damages in the old city of Homs, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Hundreds of exhausted Syrian rebels withdrew Wednesday from their last remaining strongholds in the heart of Homs, surrendering to President Bashar Assad a bloodstained city that was once the center of the revolt against him. For Assad, it is a powerful victory ahead of presidential elections. For the rebels, the dramatic exit after two years of enduring grueling assaults and siege captures their sense of abandonment amid world reluctance to help shift the balance of power on the ground. (AP Photo)
Debris lie on a street near the Faical souk in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Debris lie on a street in the Christian neighborhood of Hamidieh in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - MAY 8: At least 50 soldiers of Assad regime forces were killed in an attack staged by Islamic Front forces to the Carlton Hotel, used as a headquarters by the regime forces, near Citadel of Aleppo, Syria on May 8, 2014. (Photo by Mustafa Sultan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - MAY 8: At least 50 soldiers of Assad regime forces were killed in an attack staged by Islamic Front forces to the Carlton Hotel, used as a headquarters by the regime forces, near Citadel of Aleppo, Syria on May 8, 2014. (Photo by Mustafa Sultan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Debris lie on a deserted street in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows heavily damaged buildings in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows heavily damaged buildings and debris lying on the ground in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows a deserted street in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows a deserted street in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows a deserted street in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows a deserted street in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows a deserted square in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, provincial governor Talal al-Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Governor of Homs province Talal al-Barazi stands next to Syrian national flags flying over a square in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, Barazi said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Debris lie on a deserted street in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. A last group of Syrian rebels is poised to leave the Old City of Homs, completing a negotiated pullout from the heart of the city, the provincial governor said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on May 8, 2014 shows debris lying on the ground following an explosion at luxury hotel turned army base in the historic heart of Aleppo which rebel fighters reportedly blew up after tunneling under the front line that divides the northern city. State television gave no word on any casualties from the attack that levelled the famed Carlton Citadel Hotel just across the road from the city's UNESCO-listed Citadel. But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were dead and wounded among government troops occupying the building. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian government forces sift through the rubble on May 8, 2014 following an explosion at luxury hotel turned army base in the historic heart of Aleppo which rebel fighters reportedly blew up after tunneling under the front line that divides the northern city. State television gave no word on any casualties from the attack that levelled the famed Carlton Citadel Hotel just across the road from the city's UNESCO-listed Citadel. But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were dead and wounded among government troops occupying the building. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian government forces sift through the rubble on May 8, 2014 following an explosion at luxury hotel turned army base in the historic heart of Aleppo which rebel fighters reportedly blew up after tunneling under the front line that divides the northern city. State television gave no word on any casualties from the attack that levelled the famed Carlton Citadel Hotel just across the road from the city's UNESCO-listed Citadel. But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were dead and wounded among government troops occupying the building. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows a heavily damaged building in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. The last rebels were poised to leave the centre of the battleground Syrian city of Homs today, handing a symbolic victory to President Bashar al-Assad ahead of a controversial election. AFP PHOTO / RIM HADDAD (Photo credit should read RIM HADDAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian government forces play football on a deserted street in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after they regained control of rebel-controlled areas. The last rebels were poised to leave the centre of the battleground Syrian city of Homs today, handing a symbolic victory to President Bashar al-Assad ahead of a controversial election. AFP PHOTO / RIM HADDAD (Photo credit should read RIM HADDAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian government forces gather on a street in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 following a negotiated withdrawal of rebel fighters from the city centre where the opposition had held out under tight siege for nearly two years is the first in more than three years of conflict. The last rebels were poised to leave the centre of the battleground Syrian city of Homs today, handing a symbolic victory to President Bashar al-Assad ahead of a controversial election. AFP PHOTO / RIM HADDAD (Photo credit should read RIM HADDAD/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows abandoned buildings on a deserted street in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. The last rebels were poised to leave the centre of the battleground Syrian city of Homs today, handing a symbolic victory to President Bashar al-Assad ahead of a controversial election. AFP PHOTO / RIM HADDAD (Photo credit should read RIM HADDAD/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows abandoned buildings on a deserted square in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. The last rebels were poised to leave the centre of the battleground Syrian city of Homs today, handing a symbolic victory to President Bashar al-Assad ahead of a controversial election. AFP PHOTO / RIM HADDAD (Photo credit should read RIM HADDAD/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows abandoned buildings on a deserted square in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. The last rebels were poised to leave the centre of the battleground Syrian city of Homs today, handing a symbolic victory to President Bashar al-Assad ahead of a controversial election. AFP PHOTO / RIM HADDAD (Photo credit should read RIM HADDAD/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows abandoned buildings on a deserted square in the old city of Homs on May 8, 2014 after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas. The last rebels were poised to leave the centre of the battleground Syrian city of Homs today, handing a symbolic victory to President Bashar al-Assad ahead of a controversial election. AFP PHOTO / RIM HADDAD (Photo credit should read RIM HADDAD/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - MAY 8: At least 50 Assad forces killed in a bomb attack by members of Islamic Front in target of Carlton Citadel Hotel Aleppo, headquarters Assad forces near the Citadel of Aleppo in Aleppo, second big city of Syria on May 8, 2014. (Photo by Salih Mahmud Leyla/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
In this Feb. 13, 2014 image made from amateur video posted by Shaam News Network (SNN), an anti-Bashar Assad activist group, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, revolutionary goalkeeper Abdelbasit Sarout chants slogans during a demonstration in Homs, Syria. He began as a local hero on the soccer field, playing for the most popular team of his home city Homs and rising toward national stardom across Syria. But when the uprising against President Bashar Assad began, Sarout left all of it to lead peaceful protests, rallying thousands to demand Assad leave power. More than three years later, the former goalkeeper - now an armed fighter - has become a charismatic icon of the Syria’s rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian residents carry a wounded woman from the site where two car bombs exploded at a commercial street inhabited mostly by members of President Bashar Assad's minority Alawite sect, in Homs province, central Syria, Wednesday April 9, 2014. Two car bombs exploded Wednesday in a government-held district of Syria's battleground city of Homs, killing at least 25 people and wounding more than 100, state media said. (AP Photo/SANA)
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By BARBARA SURK

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian rebels bombed a once luxurious, historic hotel being used as a government army base in the northern city of Aleppo on Thursday, leveling the building and causing multiple casualties in a giant explosion carried off by digging tunnels under the complex, activists and militants said.

The blast set off a gigantic mushroom cloud next to the historic citadel of Aleppo, collapsing the Carlton Hotel in a government-held area near the front lines in a the city, which has been one of the bloodiest and destructive battlegrounds of Syria's civil war.

The attack was a powerful show by rebels that they can still deal heavy blows at a time of a significant defeat elsewhere. Rebels on Thursday completed their withdrawal from Homs in a negotiated evacuation that surrenders Syria's third largest city to full government control for the first time in more than two years. Syrian state TV announced that the last of the rebels left Homs by the afternoon.

The death toll from the Aleppo bombing was not immediately known.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which maintains a network of activists on the ground, said at least 14 soldiers were killed in the blast. The Islamic Front, Syria's biggest rebel alliance which claimed the attack, claimed to have killed 50 soldiers. Both groups did not say how they know how many soldiers died, and the claims could not be independently verified.

In a live broadcast from the site of blast, Syrian state TV's correspondent in Aleppo stood on a huge pile of rubble with twisted metal and palm trees sticking out, saying that the army had been using the building as a base and soldiers were positioned there at the time of the explosion.

The report did not mention casualties. The Syrian government does not publicize its casualties in the civil war.

The correspondent said the rebels blew up the building by tunneling underneath and planting explosives.

"They use tunnels like rats because they cannot face the Syrian Arab Army," the correspondent said, adding that the explosion felt like an earthquake to those around Aleppo.

The attack was the second carried out by the Islamic Front against the Carlton. The first, allegedly carried out also through explosives-packed tunnels, caused a partial collapse of the building in February. The Front, an alliance of several Islamic groups fighting to topple Assad, appears to favor this technique and has used it to carry out deadly attacks against government forces in Aleppo and Idlib provinces.

Thursday's explosion was much more powerful and sent an enormous mushroom of gray smoke into the sky and over the ancient city, according to a video posted online by activists. The video appeared genuine, matching Associated Press' reporting on the blast.

The explosion was a blow to President Bashar Assad's government in the north as his troops regained control of Homs under a cease-fire reached with rebels last week after a fierce, two-year battle with the rebels trying to oust him.

In the afternoon, a banner on Syrian TV said the last of the rebels left the city, proclaiming, "Old Homs is totally clean of armed terrorist groups" - the term used by the government for the rebels. Homs Gov. Talal Barazi said earlier in the day that more than 1,500 fighters left the city since Wednesday. He said Homs will be declared a "secure" city once the army moves in later Thursday.

No such agreement appears to be in sight in Aleppo, Syria's largest city and former commercial hub. The city has been carved up into opposition- and government-held areas since the rebels launched an offensive there in mid-2012, capturing territory along Syria's northern border with Turkey.

In recent months, government aircraft relentlessly has bombed rebel-held areas of the city and the opposition fighters have hit back, firing mortars into government-held areas. The rebels also have detonated car bombs in residential areas, killing dozens of people.

The Islamic Front posted a statement on its official Twitter account Thursday saying that its "fighters this morning leveled the Carlton Hotel barracks in Old Aleppo and a number of buildings near it, killing 50 soldiers."

The Observatory said Islamic Front fighters planted a huge amount of explosives in a tunnel they dug below the hotel and detonated it remotely. It said the hotel was completely destroyed in the blast and at least 14 government soldiers were killed in the blast.

Syria's uprising began with largely peaceful protests and has evolved into a civil war with sectarian overtones, pitting largely Sunni Muslim rebels against Assad's government that is dominated by Alawites, a sect of Shiite Islam.

Islamic extremists, including foreign fighters and Syrian rebels who have taken up hard-line al-Qaida-style ideologies, have played an increasingly prominent role among fighters, dampening the West's support for the rebellion to overthrow Assad.

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Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, and Yasmin Saker in Beirut contributed to this report

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