Syrian rebels capture army airport

Members of the Free Syrian Army walk with new youth recruits near the northern Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, as seen from the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, on 24 November 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Published Sunday, November 25, 2012

Syrian rebels seized a "large part" of a military airport near the capital on Sunday as the army shelled the outskirts of Damascus province, an opposition group said.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebel fighters took over much of the military airport of Marj al-Sultan, 15 kilometers (nine miles) east of Damascus, and destroyed two helicopters.

A video posted on the Internet appeared to show one wrecked helicopter, while a rebel shoots rockets at the airport, gripped by several fires.

Helicopter gunships pounded Zamalka town, northeast of Damascus, as rebels clashed with government troops in nearby Harasta, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, lawyers and medics in civilian and military hospitals.

The opposition fighters have set up rear bases in orchards surrounding the capital, where they had made advances during the summer but have since been driven out.

Syrian state media said on Sunday its armed forces clashed with al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups in Daraya, Hejjeira and al-Dhiyabiyeh in Damascus Countryside “and destroyed a number of their vehicles and tools used in targeting the residents and their properties.”

The report added that troops killed “a numer of terrorists” the Damascus countryside town of Hejjeia.

In the southern province of Daraa, rebels temporarily took control of a military outpost on the border with Jordan overnight, the Observatory said.

In the north, rebels pressed on with an offensive against troops stationed at the strategic Tishrin dam, which straddles the Euphrates river and connects the provinces of Aleppo and Raqa.

The rebels, according to a local resident, have been closing in on the area for the past week.

Opposition fighters already control one of the main routes to Raqa and the dam would give them a second passage, connecting a wide expanse of territory between the two provinces, both of which border Turkey.

On the diplomatic front, Russia and France are expected to tackle disagreements over how to deal with the Syria conflict this week when Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visits Paris for talks.

Medvedev will head a delegation of ministers and meet French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday.

Diplomats say the talks with Hollande are expected to focus on the Syria conflict, which has sown deep discord between Western powers and Russia and China.

"It is an issue where, there can be no doubt, we have some disagreements with France, but also some common views. Russia like France wants to find a political solution, the disagreements are over how," said Russia's envoy to Paris, Alexander Orlov.

Iran meanwhile Saturday night reaffirmed its opposition to Turkey's plans to deploy Patriot missiles near its border with Syria, saying the move would add to the region's problems as fears grow of the Syrian civil war spilling across frontiers.

Turkey asked NATO for the Patriot system, designed to intercept aircraft or missiles, last week after talks about how to shore up security on its 900-kilometer (560-mile) border.

"The installation of such systems in the region has negative effects and will intensify problems in the region," Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani said on returning from a trip to Syria, Lebanon and Turkey on Saturday evening, according to Iranian state news agency IRNA.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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