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Syrian Rebels Seize Key Airbase Near Aleppo: Reports

2/12/2013 5:15 PM ET

Armed rebels seeking to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, have seized control of a key airbase near the northern city of Aleppo after days of fierce fighting with government troops, media reports citing opposition activists said Tuesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based group that monitors and reports casualties in the Syrian conflict, said the rebels killed or captured some 40 government troops in the fight for the the al-Jarrah airbase.

Several usable MiG fighter jets at the base have fallen into rebel hands. Also, an amateur video posted online by opposition activists showed several military aircraft, including helicopters and fighter jets, on the tarmac and in shelters at the al-Jarrah base.

SOHR, which depends on accounts of activists on the ground in Syria, claims its reports are impartial and unbiased. Nevertheless, such reports cannot be verified independently as most foreign media are barred from operating in the country.

If confirmed, the loss of the al-Jarrah airbase to the rebels would be the second blow to the Syrian regime in as many days after rebel fighters seized control of the Thawra dam on the Euphrates in Raqa province on Monday.

The dam provides electricity to Aleppo, which is currently witnessing a stalemate between the rival forces since July. Both the rebels and government forces have failed to gain an upper-hand in the city despite months of fierce fighting.

The al-Jarrah airbase is the second such facility to fall into rebel hands. Early last month, rebels had seized control of the Taftanaz airbase in the northwestern Idlib province.

Nonetheless, the rebels could not get their hands on any functioning aircraft when they took over the Taftanaz airbase as the military had moved all of its functioning helicopters from the base before retreating, leaving behind only some damaged aircraft.

Syria has been witnessing fierce fighting between government forces and armed rebels opposed to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad since March 2011. An estimated 60,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria since the armed rebellion began.

In addition to those trapped inside Syria, the conflict has forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians to seek refuge in neighboring Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. The conflict, which is threatening to spill over to neighboring nations and increasingly becoming sectarian in nature, is now viewed as a civil war by most of the international community.

International efforts to find a solution to the crisis have been hampered by a deep divide in the U.N. Security Council, with Russia and China backing the Assad regime and the West opposing it.

by RTT Staff Writer

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