Syrian rebels seize control of airbase
REBELS seized an air defence facility and attacked a military airport in eastern Syria yesterday, hitting back at an air force on which president Bashar al-Assad is increasingly relying to crush his opponents.
The attacks in the oil- producing Deir al-Zor province follow rebel strikes against airports in the Aleppo and Idlib areas, close to the border with Turkey.
Syria’s leader, battling a 17-month-long uprising in which 20,000 people have been killed, has lost control of rural areas in northern, eastern and southern regions and has resorted to helicopter gunships and fighter jets.
The aerial bombardment has driven fresh waves of refugees into neighbouring countries, reviving Turkish calls for “safe zones” to be set up on Syrian territory – appeals ignored by a divided United Nations Security Council and by western powers reluctant to commit the military forces needed to secure such zones.
Rebels in Deir al-Zor overran an air defence building early yesterday, taking at least 16 captives and seizing an unknown number of anti-aircraft rockets, said Rami Abdulrahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Video posted on the internet by activists showed the officers and soldiers captured by the rebel fighters, and Al Arabiya television broadcast footage of rockets and ammunition seized in the raid.
Abdulrahman said rebels also attacked the Hamdan military airbase at Albu Kamal, close to Syria’s border with Iraq, but did not succeed in breaking into it.
The attacks come days after rebels attacked the Taftanaz air base in Idlib province. Assad’s forces have made numerous air strikes on civilians in rebel-held parts of Syria. Helicopters have strafed towns with heavy machine-guns and jets have unleashed rockets and bombs against opposition strongholds.
Bombardments of northern towns such as Azaz and Anadan, of which Assad lost control weeks ago, have led to thousands of residents fleeing to Turkey. Ankara made its call for safe havens inside Syria after the UN refugee agency said the flow of Syrians into Turkey and Jordan – which already host more than 150,000 registered refugees – was rising sharply.
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