Syrian air base falls, Assad forces under pressure

Tue Feb 12, 2013 4:06pm EST
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By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian opposition fighters captured a military airport near the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday in another military setback for President Bashar al-Assad's forces which have come under intensifying attack across the country.

The airport is the latest military facility to fall under rebel control in a strategic region situated between Syria's industrial and commercial center and the country's oil- and wheat-producing heartland to the east.

The opposition said an army base situated near Aleppo Airport, which is both civilian and military, was overrun by rebels seeking to neutralize Assad's air power, which has been instrumental in preventing the rebels from taking over major urban centers.

The Syrian authorities have banned most independent media from the country, making verification of events on the ground difficult.

A Middle East-based diplomat following the military situation said the opposition "appears to be making significant advances" in Aleppo and along the Euphrates River to the east.

The diplomat said opposition fighting units have encroached on central Damascus by breaking through the ring road and establishing footholds in areas near the historic heart of the city of 2 million people.

Fighting in the nearly two-year-old conflict has intensified in the three weeks since the political leadership of the opposition offered to negotiate a departure for Assad.

In the first direct government response, Syria's minister for "national reconciliation", Ali Haidar, said he was willing to travel abroad to meet Moaz Alkhatib, the Cairo-based president of the Syrian National Coalition opposition group.   Continued...

A Free Syrian Army fighter walks in the old city of Aleppo February 11, 2013. Picture taken February 11, 2013. REUTERS/Aref Heretani