Syrian rebels capture military airport

An Ugarit News video still shows Syrian rebels occupying Jarrah airfield in Aleppo province. photograph: afp

An Ugarit News video still shows Syrian rebels occupying Jarrah airfield in Aleppo province. photograph: afp

Wed, Feb 13, 2013, 00:00

Syrian opposition fighters captured a military airport near the northern city of Aleppo yesterday in another military setback for President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, which have come under intensifying attack.

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

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.

Authorities had previously said they would talk to the “patriotic opposition”, figures who have not allied themselves with the armed rebellion. But most centrist opposition figures have left the country since Abdel-Aziz al-Khayyer, a proponent of dialogue and non-violence, was arrested last year.

“I am willing to meet Mr Khatib in any foreign city where I can go in order to discuss preparations for a national dialogue,” Mr Haidar told the Guardian. But he said the authorities rejected any dialogue that aimed “to hand power from one side to another” and insisted that formal negotiation must take place on Syrian soil.

The main push for talks on a transition is coming from UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, a veteran diplomat who helped mediate an end to civil war in Lebanon and warned that Syria could become a failed state.

The Syrian uprising, in which 60,000 people have been killed, has been the bloodiest of the Arab revolts that have toppled autocrats in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen.

In the capital, Damascus, residents said the army had moved tanks to central Abbasid Square to shore up its defensive lines after rebels breached it last week and then struck several security targets in the heart of the capital. Jets bombarded rebel-held areas in the east of the capital.– (Reuters)