Rebels overrun largest air base in N. Syria: NGO
AFPBEIRUT -- Rebel fighters on Friday overran Taftanaz airbase, the largest in northern Syria, after several days of fierce combat but immediately came under fire from regime warplanes, a watchdog said.
January 12, 2013, 12:00 am TWN
“The fighting at Taftanaz military airport ended at 11:00 a.m. (0900 GMT) and the base is entirely in rebel hands,” said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Director Rami Abdel Rahman.
The base, in Idlib province, soon thereafter came under aerial attack by government fighter jets, the Britain-based Observatory said in a later statement.
“Warplanes are bombing Taftanaz military airport in an attempt to destroy it,” it said in comments confirmed by a local resident.
The capture of the base marks a significant advance for the rebels, who control vast swathes of Syria's north and east and are battling President Bashar al-Assad's forces in most major cities, including on the outskirts of Damascus.
“This is the largest airbase to be seized since the revolt began” nearly 22 months ago, Abdel Rahman told AFP by phone.
The rebels have previously taken control of the relatively small Hamdan airport in Albu Kamal on the Iraqi border in the east, and the Marj al-Sultan military airport in Damascus province. The assault on Taftanaz was led by jihadist fighters from the Al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and Islamic Vanguard battalions, the Observatory said.
Ahrar al-Sham declared in a statement that the “seizure of Taftanaz airport opens the door for the liberation of the entire Idlib province, because it is the largest helicopter airport in northern Syria and the second largest helicopter port in the whole country.”