Syrian rebels near to taking control of oil field

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SYRIAN rebels captured most of an oil field in the north-east of the country yesterday.

The seizure was the latest in a series of strategic conquests in a week in which rebel fighters have taken the area around a major airport and a dam.

The opposition fighters trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad also captured the town of Shadadah, near the Jbeysa oil field in strife-torn Hasaka province, according to the UK-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The oil field is in an energy-rich area along Syria’s border with Iraq. Head of the Observatory Abdul-Rahman said the rebels captured about 70 per cent of the oil field but there was still sporadic gunfire in the area.

Opposition fighters were also battling regime forces for the third straight day for control of the main airport in the northern city of Aleppo.

On Wednesday, the rebels closed in on Syria’s second largest airport in Aleppo, Syria’s main commercial hub. The airport stopped all flights weeks ago because of the fighting.

Earlier this week, rebels captured Syria’s largest dam and a military base near Aleppo. They have also brought the fight closer to the heart of Damascus, seat of Mr Assad’s regime.

Regime forces carried out airstrikes on rebel positions and shelled opposition strongholds with artillery in efforts to ­counter recent rebel advances in the northeast and around the capital.

The foray in Damascus marks the opposition’s second significant attempt to capture the capital since July, when rebels took control of several neighbourhoods before being swept out by a swift government counteroffensive.

The Observatory said regime warplanes were pounding rebel positions near Aleppo’s international airport yesterday. Opposition fighters have been attacking the airfield for weeks, and took over most of the “Brigade 80” military base protecting it on Wednesday.

Abdul-Rahman said fierce clashes were also taking place around the airport, which remained in regime hands last night. He said there were also reports of heavy fighting at the Nairab military air base nearby.

The United Nations estimates nearly 70,000 people have been killed in 23 months of fighting. The conflict started as peaceful protests against Mr Assad’s rule in March 2011 and descended into civil war amid a brutal crackdown by the regime.