Rebels capture air base in northern Syria

  • Article by: BARBARA SURK
  • Associated Press
  • February 12, 2013 - 5:12 AM

BEIRUT - Rebels captured a military air base in northern Syria on Tuesday, handing opposition fighters their second strategic victory in their nearly two-year battle against President Bashar Assad in as many days, activists said.

The seizure of the al-Jarrah airfield in Aleppo province comes a day after opposition fighters captured the nation's largest dam, an iconic industrial symbol of the Assad family's four-decade rule in Syria.

The director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul-Rahman said that after days of sporadic clashes around the al-Jarrah airfield, rebels launched a major assault on the base on Monday and had overrun the facility by Tuesday morning.

Abdul-Rahman said several regime troops in the area were killed or wounded in the fighting, while others fled as the rebels advanced.

The airfield, which is located just south of al-Furat dam on the Euphrates River now under rebel control, housed fighter jets that have been carrying out airstrikes on rebel held-areas around the country.

A video posted online by activists showed several of what appear to be military planes purportedly at al-Jarrah, parked and covered in a hanger with boxes of what appears to be artillery ammunition piled up against a wall nearby.

"These warplanes are now in the hands of Ahrar al- Sham Islamic movement," one rebel says in the video, referring to a specific rebel unit.

The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other Associated Press reporting on the events depicted.

The air base is located near the northeastern town once known as Tabqa. The town's name changed to Thawra, Arabic for revolution, after the al-Furat dam was built there in the late 1960s.

Rebels led by the al-Qaida-linked militant group Jabhat al-Nusra captured the dam on Monday, taking control over water and electricity supplies for both government-held areas and large swaths of land the opposition has captured over the past 22 months of fighting.

While the rebels control many areas in the north and east of the country, and hold whole neighborhoods of the city of Aleppo, Syria's largest urban center and its main commercial hub, the government maintains a tight grip on Damascus, and several central provinces, including Homs and Hama.

For nearly a week, the rebels have been trying to storm the capital from neighborhoods and towns on its doorstep, and have punched to within a mile of the heart of the city, inching closer to the seat of Assad's power.

Activists said government warplanes carried out air raids on opposition strongholds in several Damascus suburbs Monday, including Zamalka and Douma.

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