Syria Rebels Seize Key Northern Air Base From Assad Forces

Syrian rebel fighters seized control of the Taftanaz airbase in the northern region of Idlib after heavy fighting, according to an opposition group.

The base is now fully under rebel control, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. He said he had confirmation of its capture from both rebel and pro-government groups.

At least 60,000 people have been killed across Syria since the conflict began in March 2011. The mostly Sunni Muslim opposition, backed by the U.S. and its main European and Middle Eastern allies, has increasingly sought to target infrastructure such as military bases and energy facilities. President Bashar al-Assad, who still controls most of the capital, Damascus, has been supported by Russia and Iran.

A video posted by the opposition Local Coordination Committees showed rebels in an ammunitions depot that they said was located inside the Taftanaz airbase. Another showed them posing next to a military helicopter and a third in what they said was a building belonging to the base.

The rebels have been trying to take the base since Jan. 2 in a bid to undermine the government’s air power, which has hampered the opposition’s ability to advance.

The main opposition group, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday that any acceptable peace plan would require Assad to resign, the army to return to its barracks and civilians to be disarmed. It said government institutions should continue to work during the transition.

Assad Vision

The statement came less than a week after Assad outlined his own vision for ending the fighting, in which he would stay in power as a new constitution is drafted and an expanded government set up. The opposition and Western governments have rejected the plan.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations-Arab League joint envoy to Syria, told a Geneva news conference that no solution to the crisis is “around the corner.”

“We are very, very deeply aware of the immense suffering of the Syrian people, which has gone on for far too long,” he said after talks with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. “We all stressed the need for a speedy end to the bloodshed, to the destruction and all forms of violence in Syria,” he said of the meeting.

Brahimi declined to say how he could continue his mission after Syria yesterday accused him of being “flagrantly biased” against the Assad government.

The UN estimates that more than half a million Syrians have fled to Jordan, Turkey and other neighboring countries. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is sending $10 million to help refugees in Jordan and Syria, Al Arabiya television reported today.

To contact the reporter on this story: Donna Abu-Nasr in Beirut at dabunasr@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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