Syrian rebels attack air base to secure north-south corridor

BEIRUT Sat Nov 3, 2012 5:11pm EDT

1 of 15. Damaged buildings are pictured in the Qastal al-Harami area, in Aleppo city November 3, 2012, after clashes between Free Syrian Army fighters and forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

Credit: Reuters/George Ourfalian

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels attacked a military airport in the country's north on Saturday in a push to cut off Syria's biggest city Aleppo from the capital Damascus, and secure a strategic north-south corridor.

President Bashar al-Assad's forces appear over-stretched with fewer fighters on the ground and have sought to limit rebel advances with far superior firepower, increasingly from the air and especially in the Aleppo and Damascus areas.

But despite ragged command-and-control and few heavy weapons, the rebels have gained control over the rural north and border crossings to Turkey after 19 months of conflict and now seek to isolate Aleppo from Assad's power fulcrum in Damascus.

Abroad, fragmented anti-Assad opposition groups will try again at a meeting in Qatar starting on Sunday to form a united front in pursuit of international respect and, most important, better weapons to turn the battlefield tables and oust Assad.

Fighters from the Islamist Front to Liberate Syria said they launched the attack on the Taftanaz military airport in the northern province of Idlib in the early hours on Saturday, using rocket launchers and at least three tanks.

The government has used Taftanaz to fuel helicopter gunships and fighter jets that have bombarded nearby villages.

"All planes that bomb Idlib take off from that airport, and also, if we liberate it, the road between Aleppo and Idlib will be open and safe," a rebel from the Sukour al-Sham brigade said.

"We have managed to destroy one helicopter and several anti-aircraft batteries, and we are using tanks to shell the base," he told Reuters by phone from the scene.

Rebels said they pulled back after six hours of fighting and destroying two helicopters. "We are finished for the day but we will be back," said another rebel.

A video posted on the internet showed rebels firing rockets at the base.

Syrian warplanes attacked the nearby village of Bennish in retaliation, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Further fighting was reported in the eastern, oil-producing province of Deir al-Zor and on the outskirts of Damascus.

Activists said government forces also clashed with rebels near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and killed at least nine fighters.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said three Syrian tanks entered the demilitarized zone in the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria on Saturday and Israeli media said the tanks were involved in the fighting with rebels. In Washington, the White House had no immediate comment on the incursion.

The revolt against Assad began as peaceful rallies calling for more freedoms and democracy but turned to armed struggle against the military machine that he unleashed on protesters.

Diplomatic intervention has been fruitless because major world and regional powers are at loggerheads over how to end the conflict. It has killed about 32,000 people, making it the bloodiest of Arab uprisings that have ousted entrenched leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen since early last year.

MILITARY BASE ABANDONED

On Friday government troops vacated their last base near Saraqeb, leaving Idlib town and its surroundings "completely outside the control of regime forces", the Observatory said.

The pullout followed coordinated rebel attacks on Thursday on three military posts around Saraqeb, 50 km (30 miles) southwest of Aleppo, in which 28 soldiers were killed.

Saraqeb lies at the confluence of Syria's main north-south highway, linking Aleppo with Damascus, and another road connecting Aleppo to the Mediterranean port of Latakia, a stronghold of Assad's minority Alawite community.

The mainly Sunni Muslim rebels are supported by Sunni states including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and neighboring Turkey. Shi'ite Iran remains the staunchest regional supporter of Assad, whose Alawite faith derives from Shi'ite Islam.

The conflict has been seared by sectarian bloodshed which U.N. rights officials say may amount to war crimes.

The rebels suffered a setback in image this week when the United Nations said a video released on Wednesday appeared to show them executing soldiers who had surrendered after the insurgents occupied the base near Saraqeb.

A video posted on Saturday on YouTube by anti-Assad activists appeared to show government forces mutilating bodies of rebels in one area of Idlib. In two sequences, soldiers cut off ears of dead rebels while cursing them. "This is the ear of a dog," a voice behind the camera says with a laugh.

In response to rebel territorial gains, Assad has cranked up air strikes on opposition strongholds, including working class suburbs east of Damascus over the last week.

PRESSURE TO UNITE ANTI-ASSAD GROUPS

Political divisions within the opposition, a lack of cohesion between their leaders abroad and fighters in Syria, as well as the rising profile of Islamist militants in rebel ranks, have put off Western states otherwise keen to see Assad fall.

Veteran opposition leader Riad Seif has proposed a structure melding the rebel Free Syrian Army, regional military councils and other insurgent units alongside local civilian bodies and prominent opposition figures.

Called the Syrian National Initiative, his plan envisages the creation of an Initiative Body, including political groups, local councils, national figures and rebel forces; a Supreme Military Council; a Judicial Committee and a transitional government-in-waiting composed of technocrats.

(Writing by Mariam Karouny and Mark Heinrich; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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Comments (12)
StevenDedalus wrote:
“The revolt against Assad began as peaceful rallies calling for more freedoms and democracy but turned to armed struggle against the military machine that he unleashed on protesters.”

Yes. Keep pushing that canard.

Nov 03, 2012 10:31am EDT  --  Report as abuse
No reuters, the revolt against Assad began over a decade ago with a US program to fund and arm terrorists and Islamist opposition in Syria.

Remember the axis of evil? That was another planned step to overthrow Syria from abroad many years ago.

And it did not begin with peaceful rallies, as every country has peaceful demonstrations…

It began with mysterious snipers firing into crowds of protestors and firing at funerals.

These mysterious snipers are the ones who militarized the situation on the Islamist side and turned the protests violent.

After the snipers killed a few dozen people the protestors armed themselves and thus lead to police action against them. This lead to an armed conflict on both sides some 6-9 months before reuters even started reporting it.

The most important thing to point out is that even before the organized protests took place there was a highly organized propaganda network in place to internationalize the coup.

There are literally hundreds of Islamist cameramen on the payroll of the coup, recording scenes which are then edited by Islamic extremist websites and uploaded on youtube.

Reuters considers these extremists as news sources.

It is also worth mentioning that even before the shooting started Syria had discovered western material support for a coup, including advanced and encrypted communications equipment airdropped into syria by spy drones. These encrypted radios were used to organize the coup from outside of Syria.

I read these stories before a single person even got hit by a snipers bullet and knew instantly that there was going to be a foreign coup attempt in Syria.

Now with all the Islamist and terrorist atrocities mounting and all their war crimes being recorded, reuters and other western forces continue to back these bloodthirsty psychopaths despite the critical damage it will cause to their reputations.

We are truely living in dark times when 10 years after September 11, 2001 the same forces are again supporting and nurturing hardcore mass murdering terrorists all over again…

Nov 03, 2012 7:43pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
TheNewWorld wrote:
@pendingapproval
“It is also worth mentioning that even before the shooting started Syria had discovered western material support for a coup, including advanced and encrypted communications equipment airdropped into syria by spy drones. These encrypted radios were used to organize the coup from outside of Syria.”

The drones can barely hold one missle, they are recon aircraft. What do you think they did? Strap some radios onto the side of a predator? You obviously have no clue what you are talking about.

Nov 03, 2012 8:10pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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