Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Rebels capture Syrian air base

Image taken from video showing Syrian rebels capturing a helicopter base near Damascus (AP/Ugarit News)
Image taken from video showing Syrian rebels capturing a helicopter base near Damascus (AP/Ugarit News)

Syrian rebels have captured a helicopter base just outside Damascus in what an activist called a "blow to the morale of the regime" near President Bashar Assad's seat of power, while the bombardment of a village near the capital killed at least eight children.

Activists said the children were killed when Syrian warplanes bombed the village of Deir al-Asafir. The village is close to suburbs of the capital that has been witnessing clashes, shelling and air raids between troops and rebels over the past months.

The British-based Syrian observatory for Human Rights said the bombardment of the village killed eight children. Another activist group, the Revolution Command Council said 10 children were killed when warplanes struck the village as they played outdoors.

An amateur video showed two girls lying dead in a street while the bodies of two bloodied dead boys were in the back seat of a car parked nearby. Several other wounded children were seen rushed for treatment. Another video showed the bodies of two dead boys inside what appeared to be a makeshift hospital as others received treatment from injuries while lying on the floor.

The activist videos appeared genuine and corresponded to other reporting about the events depicted. Syria restricts the access of journalists.

Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 with an uprising against Assad's regime, inspired by other Arab Spring revolts. It quickly morphed into a civil war that has since killed more than 40,000 people, according to activists. Hundreds of children have been killed since the crisis began, according to activists.

The air base takeover claim showed how rebels are advancing in the area of the capital, though they are badly outgunned, making inroads where Assad's power was once unchallenged. Rebels have also been able to fire mortar rounds into Damascus recently.

The director of the observatory, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said rebels seized control of the Marj al-Sultan base on the outskirts of Damascus yesterday morning. He said at least 15 rebels and eight soldiers were killed in the fighting that started a day earlier. The rebels later withdrew from the base.

Rebels appear to be trying to take over air bases and destroy aircraft in order to prevent the regime from using them in attacks against opposition forces around the country. The rebels have no protection against the attack helicopters and fighter jets that have been blasting their positions.

Rebels have been attacking air bases in different parts of Syria, mostly in the northern regions of Idlib and Aleppo.

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