Syria rebels seize base as envoy holds talks

Fri Jan 11, 2013 9:33am EST
 

By Erika Solomon and Stephanie Nebehay

BEIRUT/GENEVA (Reuters) - Rebels seized control of one of Syria's largest helicopter bases on Friday, opposition sources said, in their first capture of a military airfield used by President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Fighting raged across the country as international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi sought a political solution to Syria's civil war, meeting senior U.S. and Russian officials in Geneva.

But the two world powers are still deadlocked over Assad's fate in any transition.

The United States, which backs the 21-month-old revolt, says Assad can play no future role, while Syria's main arms supplier Russia said before the talks that his exit should not be a precondition for negotiations.

Syria is mired in bloodshed that has cost more than 60,000 lives and displaced millions of people. Severe winter weather is compounding their misery. The U.N. children's agency UNICEF says more than 2 million children are struggling to stay warm.

The capture of Taftanaz air base, after months of sporadic fighting, could help rebels solidify their hold on northern Syria, according to Rami Abdelrahman, head of the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

TACTICAL, NOT STRATEGIC GAIN

But Yezid Sayigh, at the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut, said it was not a game-changer, noting that it had taken months for the rebels to overrun a base whose usefulness to the military was already compromised by the clashes around it.   Continued...

 
Members of the Free Syrian Army pose with their weapons and a snowman at the Jouret al Shayah area in Homs January 10, 2013. Picture taken January 10, 2013. REUTERS/Yazan Homsy