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Arab World

Syrian rebels claim to have captured military airfield

Syrian opposition fighters claim to have captured a military airport near the northern city of Aleppo. If confirmed, this could prove to be a significant strategic victory for the rebels.

Opposition sources said rebel fighters had captured the Al-Jarrah military airfield, located 46 kilometers (28 miles) to the east of Aleppo on Tuesday, after days of sporadic clashes.

The head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, said the capture of the base meant that the rebels now had control of fighter jets that had been carrying out airstrikes on their positions around the country.

Speaking to the Reuters news agency by telephone, Abu Abdallah Minbig, an opposition commander said the capture of the airport had “cut the [President Bashar Assad] regime's supply line from Aleppo to the east.”

Video footage posted online by opposition activists showed a number of what appeared to be military planes, parked and covered in a hangar at what was purportedly Al-Jarrah, along with what appeared to be artillery ammunition piled up against a nearby wall. One still image from the footage can be seen above.

The Associated Press reported that the video appeared to be genuine, but the authenticity could not be determined in a definitive manner.

The Observatory also reported fighting in several other parts of Syria, and Abdel Rahman said the situation was becoming increasingly difficult for government forces.

"While the army has full control of parts of Damascus province, the capital and the central province of Hama, it is suffering losses in Homs in the centre, Deir Ezzor in the east, and Aleppo and Raqa in the north," he said. "There are clashes all over the country, and it is impossible for the army to control every flashpoint."

This report too, was impossible to independently verify.

The rebels' reported seizure of the Al-Jarrah military airbase came just hours after United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged President Bashar Assad to take up an offer by the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Moaz al-Khatib, to enter political talks.

This was "an opportunity we should not miss - a chance to switch from a devastating military logic to a promising political approach," Ban said at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Khatib's offer came late last month, when he offered to meet with any government representative who didn't have “blood on their hands” and on condition that the talks focus on replacing Assad.

The first direct response to that offer did not provide much scope for optimism.

Syria's minister for reconciliation, Ali Haidar said he was willing to meet Khatib anywhere to discuss preparations for a “national dialogue.” But speaking to Britain's Guardian newspaper, he said the government rejected any discussions that aimed "to hand power from one side to another."

According to UN estimates, more than 60,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands of others displaced since the Syrian uprising began almost two years ago with peaceful protests calling for political reforms.

pfd/msh (Reuters, AFP, AP)