DERAA - Having a special symbolism for the two-year uprising, a mosque in the western Syrian city of Deraa has become a main focus of fighting between President Bashar Al-Assad's forces and opposition troops.
"There are heavy clashes going on around the mosque now and the rebels are repelling every advance by tanks from the nearby checkpoint," opposition spokesman Abu Muntaser told Reuters via Skype on Thursday, March 21.
The Omari mosque in Deraa near the Jordanian capital has been the focus of fighting between Syrian forces and anti-regime fighters.
Opposition fighters captured the mosque on Wednesday and filmed themselves marching through its battered courtyard.
An uploaded video showed a crowd of fighters touring the brown stone Omari mosque and examining piles of rubble and the pockmarked minaret, with explosions sounding in the background.
"Look, oh Muslims, this is the Omari mosque!" shouts one of the fighters in the video, as dozens of men shout "Allahu Akbar (God is great)."
Some of the fighters put down their weapons and knelt to pray.
"The area around the mosque has been a scene of clashes for the last two weeks, said Muntaser.
Once the checkpoint is liberated then the mosque and the area surrounding it will be completely in the hands of the rebels."
The Omari mosque is one of the oldest surviving mosques in Islamic history.
It was founded by Caliph Omar, who led the Muslim conquest of Syria.
The mosque was completed in 721 by the Caliph Yazid II and renovated and expanded in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries by the Ayyubids who also fortified the Roman theatre and baths.
The battle to capture the Omari mosque carries special symbolism for the Syrian opposition as it is happening around the second anniversary of security forces overrunning the site in a bloody assault on demonstrators.
The Syrian conflict started out two years ago as a pro-democracy movement and devolved into a civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people.
More than one million people have fled Syria since the conflict started in addition to the displacement of two million others inside the country.
Opposition fighters now control much of the north and east of the large Arab state but do not dominate any major city.
Opposition fighters are now trying to seize territory in the Deraa region in hopes of increasing pressure on Damascus.
Further southwest, opposition fighters on Thursday overran several towns near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in the past 24 hours, according to fighters and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group.
There is no end in sight to the conflict in Syria, which has divided world powers.
Russia and Shiite Iran support Assad, while the United States, along with some European and Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab nations back a fractured opposition.Damascus and some of its opponents have said they will consider peace talks, but no meetings have been arranged.