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Syria rebels battle for airports in Aleppo region

Opposition fighters are trying to sever supply lines to President Bashar Assad's troops. The rebels managed to gain partial control of railroads, activists say.

February 13, 2013|By Raja Abdulrahim and Nabih Bulos, Los Angeles Times
  • Syrian rebels stand in the rubble of buildings after reported government airstrikes near Aleppo's international airport.
Syrian rebels stand in the rubble of buildings after reported government… (Aleppo Media Center / Associated…)

BEIRUT — Syrian rebels brought tanks, mortar launchers and homemade rockets to bear Wednesday in their offensive to seize the international airport in the city of Aleppo and a nearby military airport, a day after making other strategic military gains in the northern region.

The opposition fighters, seeking to cut off supply lines to President Bashar Assad's forces guarding the airports, were able to take partial control of railroads in the area, activists said.

Taking the international airport would be one of the most significant gains for the rebels in the north and could solidify the opposition's hold on the province of Aleppo.

"The battle is dependent on the fighters' ability to besiege the airport and choke it off," said Abu Firas, a spokesman for the Revolutionary Council for Aleppo and Its Suburbs. "Controlling the civilian airport means preventing the regime from sending military reinforcements to its troops that are left in Aleppo."

In Damascus, Syria's capital, fighting entered its second week as rebels continued to battle for control of strategic suburbs and regime forces shelled opposition-held areas. Government troops made an attempt Wednesday to push farther into the town of Dariya, which they have been attempting to take for weeks, but were held off by rebels, activists in the town said.

Foreign military aid to the opposition has dwindled, so the rebels have grown increasingly dependent on the spoils of war by seizing equipment and arms from captured bases and outposts. But government forces have not seen a similar decline in resupply, and on Wednesday, the director of Russia's state arms trader said it would continue supplying the Assad regime.

Meanwhile, former Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi issued a statement more than two months after leaving the country. At the time, it was not clear whether Makdissi, who often spoke on behalf of the government, had defected or been fired.

He described the popular uprising that began almost two years ago as one characterized by "legitimate demands" but that had reached "a lethal and destructive phase."

He did not reveal his location or his plans in an email sent to news outlets.

raja.abdulrahim@latimes.com

Bulos is a special correspondent.

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