Syrian rebels capture air base near Damascus

BEIRUT — Syrian rebels captured a helicopter base just outside Damascus Sunday in what an activist called a “blow to the morale of the regime” near President Bashar Assad’s seat of power.

The takeover claim showed how rebels are advancing in the area of the capital, though they are badly outgunned, making inroads where Assad’s power was once unchallenged. Rebels have also been able to fire mortar rounds into Damascus recently.

The director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said rebels seized control of the Marj al-Sultan base on the outskirts of Damascus on Sunday morning. He said at least 15 rebels and eight soldiers were killed in the fighting that started a day earlier. The rebels later withdrew from the base.

Rebels appear to be trying to take over air bases and destroy aircraft in order to prevent the regime from using them in attacks against opposition forces around the country.

The rebels have no protection against the attack helicopters and fighter jets that have been blasting their positions.

Rebels have been attacking air bases in different parts of Syria, mostly in the northern regions of Idlib and Aleppo.

In the battle at the base outside Damascus, Abdul-Rahman and Damascus-based activist Maath al-Shami said rebels destroyed two helicopters with rocket propelled grenades and captured a tank. They say the base, which is on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, houses several radar positions.

“This is a blow to the morale of the regime, because it is close to the heart of the capital,” said Abdul-Rahman, referring to the base that is about 15 kilometers (10 miles) from Damascus.

Al-Shami said the rebels withdrew from the base after they captured some ammunition. He said they feared counterstrikes by regime aircraft.

An amateur video posted online showed rebels walking next to two destroyed helicopters. At least three other helicopters appeared undamaged. Black smoke billowed in the distance.

Another video showed several radar posts on hills inside the large compound. Parked military trucks stood inside as rebels roamed freely.

The activist videos appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting about the events depicted. Syria restricts the access of reporters.

The Observatory also reported violence in other parts of Syria, including the country’s largest city of Aleppo in the north and the capital itself.

It said rebels on Sunday captured a training base for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command near the Damascus suburb of Douma. The PFLP-GC is one of the Palestinian factions most loyal to Assad.

The PFLP-GC said in a statement late Saturday that the base was under attack. It said that thousands of activists and fighters who fought against Israel were trained at the base over the past 30 years.

Also Sunday, the Observatory said a bomb targeted a bus in the southern village of Othman, killing at least five people and wounding dozens. It said rebels and troops clashed in the southern region of Quneitra on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said residents found 12 bodies in the Damascus suburb of Daraya, scene of heavy clashes between rebels and government troops over the past few days.

State TV said troops clashed with al-Qaida militants in Daraya, killing some of them and confiscating a mortar that they were using in their attacks.

The station said that troops killed an al-Qaida affiliated Palestinian militant known as Abu Suhaib in the Damascus suburb of Hajira. It said his group was behind several bombings in Syria that killed and wounded dozens of people.

Assad’s regime blames the revolt on a foreign conspiracy. It accuses Saudi Arabia and Qatar, along with the United States, other Western countries and Turkey, of funding, training and arming the rebels, whom it calls terrorists.

Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011 with an uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime, inspired by other Arab Spring revolts. It quickly morphed into a civil war that has since killed more than 40,000 people, according to activists.

More in Local News

Video shows man suspected of attacking a woman in Edmonds

The man allegedly threw her on the ground, then ran away after the she began kicking and screaming.

Former Monroe cop loses appeal on sex crimes conviction

Once a highly respected officer, he was found guilty of secretly videotaping his kids’ babysitter.

Officials to test sanity of suspect in Everett crime spree

He allegedly tried to rob and clobber a transit worker, then fled and struggled with police.

Suspect sought in two Everett bank robberies

He’s described as 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-1, with dark hair and a goatee, and may have a neck tattoo.

Navy to put filter in Coupeville’s contaminated water system

Chemicals from firefighting foam was found in the town’s drinking water.

Two missing men found, one alive and one dead

The man found alive was found in an apartment across the hallway and taken to a hospital.

Darrington School Board dealing with upheavals

The crux of the controversy seems to be the superintendent’s job.

Alaska Airlines has selected destinations for new service from Paine Field. (Alaska Airlines)
Alaska Airlines will fly from Everett to 8 West Coast cities

Two destinations that didn’t make the list were Spokane and Hawaii.

Train kills man who was trying to get off tracks in Monroe

The conductor said he attempted to stop after sighting the man, who’d been lying on the rails.

Most Read