Monday, June 24, 2013

U.S.-backed Rebels in Syria Bomb Aleppo Airbase

Syrian Rebels’ Car Bomb Explodes Inside Aleppo Airbase

By Dana El Baltaji - Jun 23, 2013

Car bombs ripped through a military airbase in Aleppo and a pro-government area of Damascus, while suicide bombers tried to storm two police stations elsewhere in the capital. At least 25 people were reported killed in the escalating battles to control Syria’s top two cities.

Violence in Aleppo claimed at least 12 lives, the U.K.- based opposition group, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said in an e-mail. The bombing at Minnigh Airport, carried out in conjunction with a missile strike, destroyed several buildings at the base, which is partially under rebel control, the group said. Syrian forces, backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, launched an offensive earlier this month to retake Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and commercial center.

The deadly attacks took place a day after the U.S. and 10 other nations pledged to increase support for opposition forces in Syria, without saying what specific steps they would take or how much firepower may be needed. In Qatar today, French President Francois Hollande said rebels must “organize” themselves to secure European military support.

Rebel Plea

A top rebel commander has been pleading for weapons, warning they were crucial to turning back advancing government forces, who earlier this month conquered a key central town, al-Qusair, with the help of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

The opposition’s loss of al-Qusair “can be repeated anywhere in Syria,” General Salim Idriss, the Free Syrian Army’s chief of staff, said in a televised interview with Al Jazeera English. “Time is a very important factor. We are asking for anti-aircraft missiles. We need them yesterday. Tomorrow or after tomorrow may be too late.”

The fall of al-Qusair changed the momentum of the two-year-old war by cutting rebel resupply lines from Lebanon and giving the government control of a town near the highway linking President Bashar al-Assad’s two bastions of support, Damascus and the coastal mountain region that is the heartland of his Alawite sect. Following that victory, government forces and Hezbollah headed toward Aleppo and Damascus.

In the capital today, six suicide bombers tried to storm two police stations, killing themselves and five others, and injuring nine people, state television reported, citing an interior ministry statement. Separately, a car bomb went off in Mezze 86, a Damascus neighborhood inhabited mostly by Alawites, killing two people, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said.

The opposition Local Coordination Committees reported earlier today on its Facebook page that a chemical weapons attack by government forces killed four people and wounded a “large number” in the Damascus suburb of Zamalka. There was no way to independently verify the report.

The U.S., U.K. and France have accused Assad’s forces of deploying chemical weapons, a charge he rejects.

Syria’s civil war has killed more than 93,000 people in over two years of fighting and driven more than 1.5 million refugees into neighboring countries. The fighting has taken on a sectarian nature, pitting Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, against mostly Sunni Muslim rebels, and drawing in neighboring countries.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dana El Baltaji in Dubai at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Claudia Maedler at

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