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Syrian rebels say they captured military air base near Aleppo

February 12, 2013|By Nabih Bulos and Patrick J. McDonnell
  • A photo taken by a citizen on Jan. 25 and provided by Aleppo Media Center shows heavy shelling in Aleppo, Syria.
A photo taken by a citizen on Jan. 25 and provided by Aleppo Media Center shows… (Associated Press )

BEIRUT — Syrian opposition forces said Tuesday that they had captured a strategic military air base near the embattled northern city of Aleppo, the latest air facility reportedly overrun by insurgents.

The reported capture of the Jarrah air base, about 40 miles east of Aleppo, came after a 17-day siege during which forces loyal to President Bashar Assad were cut off from supplies, said a representative — reached by Skype — of the Liwa al Islam group, one of the rebel units reported to have taken the airfield.

The reports could not be independently verified.

At least 30 government forces were killed in the assault on the airfield, the rebel officer said. Five  opposition fighters were killed, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based pro-opposition group.

Syrian warplanes bombarded the base after its capture by the rebels, the observatory said. The opposition says warplanes often attack military facilities after the bases fall into enemy hands.

The reported capture reflects the rebels’ ongoing strategy to lay siege to and eventually capture air bases and thus constrain the government’s ability to use air power against insurgent forces.

Rebels and government forces have been battling since July for control of Aleppo, once the nation's bustling commercial capital. Large swaths of the city have been reduced to depopulated rubble fields.

Video said to be from the captured airfield shows a number of fighter jets in various states of disrepair, apparently abandoned at the air base.

The base is along the route from Aleppo east to the north-central city of Raqqah, along the Euphrates.

Rebels also captured large caches of ammunition, heavy machine guns and antiaircraft weapons at the base, opposition activists said.

Throughout the almost two-year rebellion, military bases and police stations have been key sources of weaponry for Syrian rebels.

Elsewhere in Syria, fierce fighting was reported again on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, where government troops have been trying to deny rebel access to central Damascus.  The government said it had inflicted “heavy losses” on “terrorists” in several provinces across Syria,  the official news service reported.

The fighting has cost more than 60,000 lives, according to an estimate by the United Nations.

In embattled Idlib province, the observatory said, a “rebel group” in the city of Maarat Numan had decapitated the memorial statue of a famous native son, Abul Ala al-Maarri, a prominent 9th and 10th century poet and writer. The blind Arab philosopher’s work  is considered ahead of his time for its staunch advocacy of free thought and its aversion to dogma.

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Bulos is a special correspondent and McDonnell is a Times staff writer.

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