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DAMASCUS: Rebels yesterday overran a military air base, a watchdog said, a day after seizing control of Syria’s largest dam as they pushed an assault on strategic targets in the north of the country. The military advance came as prospects for a political solution to Syria’s civil war faded and as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged President Bashar Al Assad’s regime to accept an offer of dialogue by an opposition leader.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebels captured a military airport in Al Hajjar in Aleppo province, and in the process seized for the first time a fleet of deployable warplanes including MiG fighter jets.
During their assault on the airport, the rebels killed, injured or imprisoned some 40 troops, the Britain-based watchdog said.
“The remainder of the troops pulled out from the airport, leaving behind several warplanes and large amounts of ammunition,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said. Rebels also launched offensives on other airports in the region, activists said.
“At dawn, several rebel battalions launched simultaneous assaults on Aleppo international airport and Nayrab military airport,” the grassroots anti-regime Aleppo Media Centre said via Facebook. The international airport at Syria’s second city has been closed since January 1.
Activists in Aleppo said that fighters in the north have shifted their focus to the capture of military airports and bases.
“They are important because they are an instant source of ammunition and supplies, and because their capture means putting out of action the warplanes used to bombard us,” Aleppo-based activist Abu Hisham said via the Internet.
But while the rebels have notched up victories in northern and eastern Syria they have yet to take a major city in the war-ravaged country, which is largely art a military stalemate almost two years into the revolution.
The capture of Al Jarrah airport came just over a month after rebels overran Taftanaz airbase, the largest in northern Syria.
Amateur video shot by rebels overrunning Al Jarrah and distributed via the Internet showed a fleet of warplanes lining the airport’s runways. “Thank God, Ahrar Al Sham (Islamist rebels) have overrun the military airport” at Al Jarrah, said an unidentified cameraman who shot a video at the site. “MiG warplanes are now in the hands of Ahrar Al Sham. And here is the ammunition,” the cameraman added, filming two Russian-made fighter jets similar to those used by the army since last summer to bombard rebel targets. The authenticity of the video was impossible to verify.
The battlefield assaults came just hours after the UN’s Ban urged Assad’s regime to view an offer for talks with Syrian National Coalition chief Moaz Al Khatib as “an opportunity we should not miss — a chance to switch from a devastating military logic to a promising political approach”. Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Ban described as “courageous” Khatib’s offer for talks.
Khatib said in late January he was prepared to hold direct talks with regime representatives without “blood on their hands,” on condition the talks focus on replacing Assad. The UN Security Council, currently divided over Syria, “must no longer stand on the sidelines, deadlocked, silently witnessing the slaughter,” said Ban.
The death toll from the civil war is nearing 70,000, UN rights chief Navi Pillay said yesterday as she again condemned the UN Security Council’s failure to agree action on the conflict.
Pillay announced only last month that the toll had reached 60,000. “That figure is now probably approaching 70,000,” Pillay told a Security Council meeting on protecting civilians in conflict.
“The lack of consensus on Syria and the resulting inaction has been disastrous and civilians on all sides have paid the price,” Pillay said, criticizing Security Council divisions on the 23-month-old conflict. “We will be judged against the tragedy that has unfolded before our eyes. This council, as well of those of us in key positions within the UN, will be rightly asked what we did,” she said.AFP