Syrian Fighting Rages as Rebels Seek to Weaken Air Power

Syrian Fighting Rages as Rebels Seek to Weaken Air Power
Syrian honor guards wait next to comrades' coffins draped with the national flag ahead of a group funeral on Aug. 30, 2012 at Damascus' Tishrin Hospital. Photographer:Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

Syrian rebels turned their attacks against airbases as they try to reduce the strength of the government’s air power being deployed against them.

Rebels detained more than 16 members of Syrian armed forces after storming a building in the city of Bukmal in Deir Ezzour province near Iraq’s border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on its Facebook page. Those captured included officers and regular conscripts, the U.K.-based group said.

Syrian forces have targeted helicopters and fighter jets in their 17-month battle as rebels try to oust President Bashar al-Assad from power. More than 23,000 people have died since the uprising against Assad began in March last year, according to the observatory.

Syrian government forces killed 156 people yesterday, including 53 in Damascus and its suburbs, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mailed statement. They shelled areas of Homs and Aleppo in the neighborhoods of Tadamon and al-Hajar al-Aswad in the capital of Damascus, the group said. A car bomb explosion in the Damascus suburb of Sabina killed at least 15 civilians in a Palestinian refugee camp, Middle East News Agency reported early today.

Rebels won control of parts of the Abu Zhuhoor military airport in the northern province of Idlib, the U.K.-based observatory said. They also attacked Kwers military airport in Aleppo and destroyed three war planes, Al Jazeera reported, citing activists.

Regional Divisions

Divisions between the majority Sunni Muslims and Assad’s Alawite leadership have spilled across the country’s borders, with clashes between Sunnis and Alawites in Lebanon during the past few months. The strains are also showing at regional forums.

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi last week told a gathering of non-aligned nations hosted by Syrian ally Iran that Assad’s regime was “oppressive” and had “lost its legitimacy.” The Syrian delegation, which included Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem, left the hall following his comments.

Iran substituted Syria’s name for Bahrain in a translation of Mursi’s speech into Farsi, according to Hamad Ahmed Al Amer, an undersecretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He said he’s lodged an official protest and is seeking an apology.

Airport Control

The rebel Free Syrian Army warned it is going to target civilian flights using the airports in Damascus and Aleppo starting Sept. 3 because it suspects the government is using flights to get weapons from Russia, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. The warning was posted yesterday on the group’s Facebook page.

The London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported that rebel officials said they would direct attacks against the civilian airports because they are being used to support Syrian military operations.

In recent days, the rebels have reported downing several helicopters and at least two fighter aircraft involved in attacks against opposition fighters and civilians. While videos have been posted online and broadcast, the details have not been independently verified.

Ammar Qurabi, head of the Syrian National Congress for Change, told Al Arabiya in interview that rebels targeting the regime’s air bases had reduced the air strikes by about 50 percent.

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