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Syrian Revolutionary Fighters Capture Minnigh Airbase, in Aleppo, 4 Alawite Villages

August 6, 2013

Syrian rebels capture villages in pro-Assad bastion

By Richelle HARRISON PLESSE (video) News Wires (text)  

France 24, August 6, 2013

Syrian rebels on Monday captured four villages in the heartland of President Bashar Assad’s minority Alawite sect as they fought government troops for the second straight day in the mountains overlooking the country’s Mediterranean coast.

Opposition fighters also said they captured about 400 villagers and pro-government gunmen in battles in the area.

Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, dominate Assad’s regime. The capture of the villages in the coastal Latakia province was a symbolic blow to Assad, whose forces have been taking territory in recent weeks in central Syria.

Rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have captured a key air base in the northern province of Aleppo after months of fighting, a rights group said Tuesday.

"The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (a jihadist group) and other opposition groups took total control at dawn today of Minnigh air base," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Rebel groups have been fighting Assad loyalists for some eight months for control of the Minnigh air base, in a bid to stop the regime from using warplanes to strike areas of Aleppo province that are now under rebel control.

Syria’s conflict has taken on an increasingly sectarian tone in the last year, pitting predominantly Sunni Muslim rebels against members of Assad’s Alawite minority.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels captured the villages after attacking government outposts in the Jabal al-Akrad hills on Sunday. The group, which relies on reports from activists on the ground, said at least 32 government troops and militiamen and at least 19 rebels, including foreign fighters, died in Sunday’s fighting.

Much of Latakia has been under the firm control of Assad’s forces since the beginning of the conflict more than two years ago, but some areas, including Jabal al-Akrad, are close to rebel-held areas and have seen fighting.

It was a rare success for the rebels on the battlefield in recent weeks. Assad’s forces have been on the offensive since taking the central town of Qusair in June, and last week captured a key district in the central city of Homs, an opposition stronghold.

A rebel in Latakia, who identified himself as Mohammed Haffawi, told The Associated Press that the rebels were getting closer to the town of Haffa, which was captured by Assad’s forces in June last year, and had killed dozens in the fighting.

Haffawi said the rebels captured about 400 Alawite villagers and pro-government gunmen on Monday.

“They are in a safe place now and under the protection of the Free Syrian Army,” he said, referring to key rebel group.

A Syrian activist also said the rebels had captured about 400 Alawites. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.

Meanwhile, Syria’s state-run news agency SANA said government troops forced rebels out of three villages in Latakia that they had stormed earlier. It wasn’t clear which villages the report was referring to but SANA said government troops had “killed dozens of terrorists, including Libyans and Tunisians.”

Syria main’s opposition bloc, the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, hailed the rebel advance and said that Assad’s troops had used the villages to attack rebel-held civilian areas.

The SNC also charged that regime forces used toxic gas in a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburb of Adra on Monday and urged the international community to investigate the attack. The opposition has claimed more than a dozen such attacks across Syria and the latest purported attack could not be independently confirmed.

Last week, the United Nations said chemical weapons experts would depart “within days” for Syria to investigate three specific allegations of chemical weapons use. The U.N. gave a green light for the investigation following an “understanding” reached between the Syrian government and a delegation from the world organization that visited Damascus last month.

At the site of one of the regime’s victories in Homs, Syrian Defense Minister Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij toured the ravaged district of Khaldiyeh on Monday, praising troops for what he told state TV was a “military miracle.”

Standing in front of the historic Khalid bin al-Waleed mosque in Khaldiyeh, al-Freij vowed the army will “triumph against this universally-backed terrorism which is being exported to us.”

Also Monday, rebels pressed on with their battle for the Mannagh military air base near the border with Turkey that they have been trying to capture for about a year. Syrian army warplanes carried out air raids to help troops defending the air base, activists said.

More than 100,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict started in March 2011 as largely peaceful protests against Assad’s rule. After opposition supporters took up arms to fight a brutal government crackdown on dissent, it turned into an armed uprising and later escalated into a civil war.

The Assad government claims it is not facing a popular revolt, but a conspiracy by Gulf Arab states and the West seeking to destroy Syria by supplying Islamic extremists with weapons and funds.

Also Monday, Human Rights Watch said ballistic missiles fired by the Syrian army into populated areas have killed hundreds of civilians in recent months.

The U.S.-based group said it has investigated nine apparent missile attacks that killed at least 215 people, half of them children, between February and July. The most recent attack HRW investigated occurred in the northern province of Aleppo on July 26, killing at least 33 civilians including 17 children.

HRW activists visited the sites of seven of the nine attacks and found no apparent military targets nearby, the group said. Ole Solvang, a senior researcher with HRW, said it’s impossible to distinguish between civilians and fighters when firing missiles with wide-ranging destructive effects into densely populated areas.

The HRW called on Assad to stop indiscriminate attacks. Government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.


Rebels capture strategic airbase in northern Syria: activists

DAMASCUS, August 6, 2013 (Xinhua) --

Islamist groups backed by some rebel groups have taken control over a contested military airbase in Syria's northern province of Aleppo, another victory to the western-backed rebels in the northern slice of Syria, activists said Tuesday.

The so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group and other rebel groups took almost full control over the Syrian military airbase of Minnigh in Aleppo, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The new development came after intense clashes at the vicinity of the airbase following a suicide bombing at one of the command centers in facility, the observatory said, adding that the suicide bombers were not Syrians.

The observatory said that the rebels had taken several officers as hostages, a claim that was totally rejected by the state media. And the official news agency SANA said that the staffers of the facility are fine and in safe place.

SANA said the rebels are taking strong blows inside and around the airbase, adding that the airbase is clear of any military gear and the troops there are confronting the "terrorists" with " unprecedented valor."

Meanwhile, the pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV said that the rebels attack was staged by more than 7,000 fighters from different factions, adding that facility has been besieged by the rebels 10 months ago.

The violence at the Minnigh airbase in Aleppo flared Monday after several battalions of the rebels staged a suicide bombing that targeted one of the airbase command buildings, using a booby- trapped BMB vehicle, according to a video footage circulated on activists' websites.

Furthermore, activists website posted another footage purporting to show the rebels while preparing the explosives and booby-trapping the BMB vehicle.

The airbase is home to the 4th Flying Training Squadron, equipped with MBB 223 Flamingo trainer aircraft and Mil Mi-8 helicopters. The air base is currently a major target of the armed opposition, who as of January 2013 have surrounded the facility.

The loss of Minnigh came at a time the Syrian army were making considerable progress against the rebels in the central province of Homs, where the Syrian troops recently stripped the western- backed rebels from two key areas: al-Khalidieh and al-Qussair.

Battles rage at military airbase in Syria's Aleppo

DAMASCUS, Aug. 5, 2013 (Xinhua) --

Heavy fighting engulfed a contested military airbase in Syria's northern province of Aleppo Monday after the rebels staged a huge blast that targeted one of its command centers, activists' networks reported.

The violence at the Minnigh airbase in Aleppo flared after several battalions of the rebels staged a suicide bombing that targeted one of the command buildings, according to a video footage circulated on activists' website.

The oppositional Aleppo Media Office (AMF) said the Syrian air force dropped cluster bombs at the surroundings of Minnigh, apparently to keep the rebels from storming the facility.

The AMF said that loud explosions were heard from the airbase, confirming the report about the suicide bombing at Minnigh, adding that the blast was staged using a booby-trapped BMB vehicle.

No more information about the condition of the airbase and the current status could be obtained.

The air base is the home to the 4th Flying Training Squadron, equipped with MBB 223 Flamingo trainer aircraft and Mil Mi-8 helicopters.

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