Published — Wednesday 13 February 2013
Last update 13 February 2013 3:50 am
DAMASCUS: Fighters yesterday overran a military air base and captured warplanes, a day after seizing control of Syria’s largest dam as they pushed an assault on strategic targets in the north of the country.
The military advance came as prospects for a political solution to Syria’s civil war faded and as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged President Bashar Assad’s regime to accept an offer of dialogue by an opposition leader.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighters captured a military airport in Al-Hajar in Aleppo province, and in the process seized for the first time a fleet of deployable warplanes including MiG fighter jets.
During their assault on the airport, the fighters killed, injured or imprisoned some 40 troops, the Britain-based watchdog said, adding that the rest of the troops pulled out, leaving behind ammunition and warplanes.
Soon afterwards, the air force used fighter jets to bombard the airport to try to dislodge fighters there, the A military source in Aleppo confirmed the capture “after 48 hours of fierce combat,” but downplayed the importance of Al-Jarrah.
“It is a very small airport, used for training purposes,” he said. “There are only small amounts of unusable ammunition left there, and several planes that have long been out of action.”
The Observatory said the fighters captured “dozens of fighter jets, most of them type MiG 17, and others type Sukhoi L39.”
Activists meanwhile reported the launch of offensives on the Aleppo international airport and Nayrab military airport nearby, although the military source denied any such assaults. The Observatory meanwhile also reported a capture of the main road linking Aleppo province to neighboring Raqa, and a checkpoint near Aleppo’s airport.
Activists in Aleppo have told AFP that fighters in the north have shifted their focus from city battles to the capture of military airports and bases. “They are important because they are an instant source of ammunition and supplies, and because their capture means putting out of action the warplanes used to bombard us,” Aleppo-based activist Abu Hisham said via the Internet.
While the fighters have notched up victories in northern and eastern Syria they have yet to take a major city in the war-ravaged country almost two years into the revolution.
The capture of Al-Jarrah airport came just over a month after fighters overran Taftanaz airbase, the largest in northern Syria.
Amateur video shot by fighters overrunning Al-Jarrah and distributed via the Internet showed a fleet of warplanes lining the airport’s runways.
“Thank God, Ahrar Al-Sham overrun the military airport” at Al-Jarrah, said an unidentified cameraman who shot a video at the site.
“MiG warplanes are now in the hands of Ahrar Al-Sham. And here is the ammunition,” the cameraman added, filming two Russian-made fighter jets similar to those used by the army since last summer to bombard targets.