Rebels fight Syrian troops over airbase

Updated 06 November 2012
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Rebels fight Syrian troops over airbase

BEIRUT: Syrian rebels launched a dawn assault Saturday on a strategic airbase in the north of the country, trying to disrupt strikes by warplanes and helicopters that pound rebel-held towns and give the regime of President Bashar Assad a major edge in the civil war.
The assault, reported by activists, comes a day before the start of a key international conference in Qatar at which the United States and its allies aim to reorganize the opposition’s political leadership and unite their ranks. The leadership-in-exile has been widely seen as ineffective and out of touch with rebel fighters on the ground.
Rebels forces attacked the Taftanaz airbase early Saturday morning in fighting with government forces that continued into the afternoon, the anti-regime activist Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Joining Syrian rebels in the attack were fighters from Jabhat Al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic militant group made up of foreign jihadis, according to the Observatory. Al-Nusra fighters, who are considered among the most experienced and disciplined among the opposition forces, have led attacks on other airbases in the north in past months.
The Taftanaz base mainly houses military helicopters, near the main highway between the capital Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo, where rebels and the military have been battling for control for months.
Online activist videos said the show the battle showed rebels firing rockets and smoking rising over buildings and a airstrip. An activist speaking in the video identifies it as an attack by rebels and Jabhat Al-Nusra on the base.
The videos appear genuine and are consistent with other Associated Press reporting in the area.
Airstrikes have been one of the most effective and feared weapons of the regime in the civil war. Rebels managed to seize control of a pocket of territory around Aleppo, but government warplanes and helicopters continue to blast rebel-held towns from the air. In the fierce fighting over Aleppo itself, warplanes almost daily swoop in to strafe or bomb rebel-held neighborhoods.
Activists say more than 36,000 people have been killed during Syria’s 19-month-old conflict, which began in March last year as a largely peaceful uprising but has transformed into a brutal civil war.
Several attempts for a truce in the fighting have failed, including the UN-supported four-day cease-fire that was meant to coincide with a major Muslim holiday last week, leaving the international community at a loss for ways to end the war.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday called for a major leadership overhaul and suggested Washington would handpick more representative leaders, including those fighting the regime. The opposition conference the Qatari capital, Doha, starts on Sunday.


Lebanon to review move to let Iranians in without passport stamps -source

Updated 2 min 4 sec ago
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Lebanon to review move to let Iranians in without passport stamps -source

BEIRUT: Lebanese ministers will review a security agency’s decision to allow Iranians to enter at the airport without having their passports stamped, an interior ministry source said on Tuesday.
The move by the General Security agency has sparked an outcry from some politicians who fear it reflects the deepening influence of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, which emerged from a recent parliamentary vote with more sway.
The staunchly anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces, a Christian party, described the change as an attempt to help Iran send more forces to Syria through Beirut or move money to Hezbollah despite US sanctions.
The agency, which oversees airport security, has defended its decision and said entry cards will be stamped instead.
Iran’s state news agency IRNA, reporting on the new measure this week, said some Iranians who had traveled to Lebanon had faced difficulty obtaining European visas.
The United States considers Hezbollah a terrorist group and has tightened sanctions against those accused of doing business with it. The European Union classifies Hezbollah’s military wing as terrorist. Tehran and Shiite Hezbollah provide critical support to the Syrian army in the seven-year conflict next door.
Caretaker Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk, returning from a trip abroad, will meet Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri and other officials on Wednesday to discuss the passport move and determine whether or not to nullify it, the source told Reuters.
Machnouk retweeted an article on Monday in local daily Al-Nahar that cited ministry sources as saying he would challenge the measure.
Major General Abbas Ibrahim, who heads General Security, defended the step as a normal procedure.
“Unfortunately, some in Lebanon have a wide imagination,” he said in remarks to local daily Al-Joumhouria.
A database automatically registers all Iranian arrivals and departures, said Ibrahim, a Shiite official who has coordinated with Hezbollah and its political ally the Amal party.
He added that many European and Gulf countries refrained from stamping passports and that introducing new technology at Beirut airport would eventually eliminate the need for stamps.
A lawmaker with the Lebanese Forces, which nearly doubled its seats in parliament in the election, said he believed the interior ministry would cancel the new measure.
“This does not need discussion,” Wehbe Katicha told Reuters. “A director general made an administrative decision, when it should be a political one. It’s a mistake.”