Syrian Rebels Clash With Troops Inside Military Airbase

Clashes erupted between government troops and Syrian rebels, including an Islamist group branded a terrorist organization by the U.S., inside a military airfield in the northern region of Idlib, an opposition group said.

The rebels took over more than half the Taftanaz airbase, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement today. The fighting took place around the facility’s main buildings and weapons depot, it said.

The U.K.-based opposition group said Jabhat al-Nusra, designated a terrorist group by the U.S. last year because of ties to al-Qaeda, joined the attack. Guards at the airbase struck back at the rebels, inflicting heavy losses as many were forced to flee, state-run Syrian TV said.

Syria’s rebels have been trying to take the airbase since Jan. 2 in a bid to undermine the government’s air power, which has hampered the opposition’s ability to advance against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

More than 60,000 people have been killed in violence that has pitted the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels against Assad’s Alawite-dominated security forces since March 2011, according to recent United Nations estimates. At least 12 people were killed across Syria today, including eight in Damascus and its suburbs, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said.

‘Flagrantly Biased’

Syria’s Foreign Ministry lashed out against UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, saying he is “flagrantly biased for those who are conspiring against Syria and the interests of the Syrian people,” according to a statement on state-run SANA news agency. The statement, citing an unnamed ministry official, came a day after Brahimi told Reuters in Cairo that Assad could have no place in a transitional government to end the conflict.

Syria will continue cooperating with Brahimi and still hopes his mission will be successful, according to the statement.

An unguided, short-range ballistic missile was launched in Syria yesterday and landed in the country, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization official said today. This follows similar launches on Jan. 2 and Jan. 3, the official said, adding that all missiles were fired from inside Syria and fell in the country’s north. None hit Turkish territory, the official said, without elaborating.

Iran Blamed

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said at a Cairo news conference that he hopes “the region’s countries” would get together to find a “Syrian-Syrian solution” and “prevent any foreign intervention” because foreigners “don’t want what’s good for us.” Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said Iran has a role to play in resolving the crisis.

Iran “provides the regime with money, weapons, men and political cover,” Abdelbaset Sieda, a member of the opposition National Coalition, told Al Jazeera. “If it weren’t for Iranian intervention, the Syrian crisis would have ended a long time ago, the regime would have fallen and the Syrian people would have been victorious.”

The unrest has forced tens of thousands of Syrians to seek safety in neighboring countries, including Turkey and Jordan, where camps have been set up to receive them.

At Jordan’s Zaatari camp, severe weather conditions this week, including heavy rain, snow and sub-zero temperatures, have “greatly worsened” the situation of children among some 55,000 Syrian refugees living there, the United Nations Children’s Fund said in an e-mailed statement.

“Widespread flooding has occurred, swamping tents and overwhelming the camp draining system,” UNICEF said.

The agency said it has distributed emergency warm clothing and sleeping mats to replace mattresses soaked by the rain. It appealed for more funds to help address the refugees’ basic needs.

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