Islamists Join Syrian Rebels in Military Airfield Attack

Syrian rebels, including an Islamist group branded a terrorist organization by the U.S., engaged in “intense” clashes with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces at a military airfield in the northern region of Idlib.

Opposition fighters appeared to be attempting to storm the Taftanaz airbase following heavy shelling, according to an e-mailed statement from the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The intense clashes left at least four rebels dead and one helicopter damaged, the observatory said. The opposition group said Jabhat al-Nusra, designated a terrorist group by the U.S. last year because of ties to al-Qaeda, had joined the attack.

Assad’s military lost barracks, airfields, heavy weaponry and oilfields across the country during the last quarter of 2012. Fighters engaged in a 22-month struggle to topple the government in Damascus also have control of mainly Sunni Muslim towns and suburbs stretching from the northeast outskirts of the capital to the southwest of the city.

More than 44,000 people have been killed in violence that has pitted the mainly Sunni Muslim opposition against Assad’s Alawite-dominated security forces, the observatory estimates.

Air Attack

At least 20 people died today when warplanes struck a gas station in the Damascus suburb of Mleeha, Omar Hamza, an opposition spokesman told Al Arabiya television. The attack killed 50 and wounded dozens more, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committees in an e-mailed statement. The number of dead is likely to rise as rescuers continue to pull human remains from the rubble, the LCC said.

United Nations special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned on Dec. 30 that the war in Syria is spiraling into “hell” that’s giving power to regional warlords.

“The situation is bad and it’s getting worse,” Brahimi said in Cairo. “I can’t see anything other than these two paths: Either there will be a political solution that will meet the ambitions and legitimate rights of the Syrian people, or Syria will turn into hell.”

The fighting has caused damage totaling 2 trillion Syrian pounds ($28 billion), Prime Minister Wael al-Halaqi said on state television on Dec. 31.

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