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Syria

Syria rebels step up attack on air base

Rebel fighters in Syria have intensified their attacks on a military airport in the northern province of Idlib, activists say. Insurgents are eager to stifle the air power of President Bashar Assad.

Opposition fighters had launched an assault with machine guns and mortars on the Afis military airport near Taftanaz, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Among the rebels were fighters from the al Qaeda-linked al Nusra movement, according to the British-based group. Casualties on both sides were reported, although no specific numbers were given.

With most foreign media barred from entering the country, such reports are difficult to verify. No immediate account of fighting in the area was reported by Syrian state media.

However, a local resident told the AFP news agency that the army was carrying out air raids around the base to repel the attack.

While rebels have made major gains across the country, particularly in the north, they have had difficulties defending territory against government troops backed by air power.

Rebel fighters were also said to have launched an assault, beginning on December 28, on the Wadi Deif military camp, one of the last government strongholds in the northwest.

Al Nusra rebels led the offensive according to the Observatory - which relies on local networks of medics and activists to compile its information.

The group reported that 104 people in total were killed on Tuesday, including 35 civilians.

rc/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)