Syrian rebels take airbase in slow progress toward Damascus

Sun Nov 25, 2012 4:47pm EST
 

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian rebels said on Sunday they had captured a helicopter base east of Damascus after an overnight assault, their latest gain in a costly battle to unseat President Bashar al-Assad that is drawing nearer to his seat of power.

The Marj al-Sultan base, 15 km (10 miles) from the capital, is the second military facility on the outskirts of the city reported to have fallen to Assad's opponents this month.

Activists said rebels had destroyed two helicopters and taken 15 prisoners.

"We are coming for you Bashar," a rebel shouted in an internet video of what activists said was Marj al-Sultan. Restrictions on non-state media meant it could not be verified.

The rebels have been firming their hold on farmland and urban centers to the east and northeast of Damascus while a major battle has been underway for a week in the suburb of Daraya near the main highway south.

"We are seeing the starting signs of a rebel siege of Damascus," veteran opposition campaigner Fawaz Tello said from Berlin. "Marj al-Sultan is very near to the Damascus Airport road and to the airport itself. The rebels appear to be heading toward cutting this as well as the main northern artery to Aleppo."

Assad's core forces, drawn mainly from his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has dominated power in Syria for nearly five decades, are entrenched in the capital.

They also have devastating air superiority although they have failed to prevent rebels increasing their presence on the edge of the capital and in neighborhoods on the periphery.   Continued...

 
Members of the Free Syrian Army gather as gunfire is heard between them and the armed Kurds of The Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the northern Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, November 25, 2012. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh