Published — Thursday 10 January 2013
Last update 9 January 2013 11:32 pm
BEIRUT: Syrians believe that 40 years of Assad family rule is “too long”, the international mediator for Syria said in an interview aired yesterday.
“In Syria, in particular, I think that what people are saying is that a family ruling for 40 years is a little bit too long. So the change has to be real. It has to be real, and I think that Assad could take the lead in responding to the aspiration of his people rather than resisting it,” Lakhdar Brahimi said in an interview with the BBC.
Meanwhile, forty-eight Iranians, freed by Syrian fighters in exchange for more than 2,000 civilian prisoners held by the Syrian government, arrived in central Damascus yesterday, a Reuters witness reported.
The Syrian government has not referred to the prisoner swap and the whereabouts of the civilian prisoners was not immediately known.
Opposition groups accuse it of detaining tens of thousands of political prisoners during Bashar Assad’s 12 years in power and say those numbers have spiked sharply during the 21-month-old civil war.
The Syrian fighter group Al-Baraa brigade seized the Iranians in early August and initially threatened to kill them.
Bulent Yildirim, head of the Turkish humanitarian aid agency IHH which helped broker the deal, told Reuters by telephone from Damascus shortly beforehand that the reciprocal release of 2,130 civilian prisoners — most of them Syrian but also including Turks and other foreign citizens — had begun.
Meanwhile, fighters seized parts of a large military airport in northwestern Syria yesterday after a weeks-long siege, said a monitoring group.
“Troops clashed with Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar Al-Sham fighters inside the Taftanaz military airport, after fighters broke in and seized large swathes of its grounds,” said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The fighters destroyed several helicopter gunships during their assault, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of doctors, lawyers and activists for its reporting.
Army tanks pounded the airport grounds and several nearby villages in a bid to root out the fighters, said the watchdog.