Syrian rebels seize control of government air base in Aleppo province

Aug. 6, 2013 at 11:06 AM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- An air base in northern Syria was almost completely under control of anti-government forces that seized military equipment and prisoners, rebels said Tuesday.

Rebel and opposition groups said the takeover of the Minakh air base began when two men in an armored vehicle carried out a suicide attack to breach the defenses of the facility where government troops fought off attacks for nearly a year, The New York Times reported.

Even as Minakh fell to rebels, the Syrian government was celebrating its own victory in Homs, where the defense minister toured the Khalidiyeh neighborhood, long held by insurgents, and posed in front of the Khalid bin al-Waleed mosque, a rebel rallying point.

To the south, a rebel force armed with tanks and rocket launchers advanced into an area that is a government stronghold, the coastal mountains of Latakia Province, the Times said.

The Times said victories by the government and rebel forces show how Syria is split into areas of government and rebel control in the civil war that began more than two years ago.

The government is strong in the corridor from Damascus through Homs to its coastal stronghold, but lacks the ability to maneuver through most roads and rural areas.

Meanwhile, insurgents have worn down defenses in places such as Latakia and around the Minakh air base.

Rebel fighter Ahmed Farzat told the Times in a Skype interview he helped 10 soldiers defect from the air base Monday.

"They tried to kill the head of the base a few days ago, but failed," Farzat said. "He was trying to flee with other soldiers in a tank, but thank God he was captured later."

Abu al-Haytham, a rebel fighter who fought for months to seize the base called its capture a morale booster and "a strike against the regime."

But, Haytham said from Turkey, where he now lives, "it won't change anything on the ground -- we just got some vehicles and ammunition."

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