Sunday, 4 November 2012

Syria rebels target key airbase before opposition talks

AFP DAMASCUS SYRIAN rebels said on Saturday they had launched a major assault on a northern airbase used to deploy regime air power, on the eve of a crucial meeting to decide the future of the opposition.

The attack on the Taftanaz base, from where helicopter gunships raid opposition positions and rebel-held areas, comes after regime forces this week launched an unprecedented wave of air strikes in a bid to reverse rebel gains.

A video posted on the Internet said eight battalions were taking part in the attack, including the radical Islamist Al-Nusra Front, and showed a missile launcher mounted on the back of a pick-up truck firing on regime positions.

The Syrian Revolution General Commission, a network of activists on the ground, said an operation had begun “to liberate the Taftanaz airbase.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britainbased watchdog, said “heavy fighting” had broken out near the base in Idlib province where rebels have seized new ground this week.

The rebels earlier on Saturday attacked and briefly held an air defence position at Duwila in Idlib, in fighting that killed an army officer and wounded eight rebels, the Observatory said.

The fresh clashes came as Syria’s political opposition prepared for key talks starting on Sunday in Qatar, where the US is expected to push for a new umbrella organisation to unite the country’s fractured regime opponents.

Reports say Washington will press for an overhaul of the opposition and its main representative body, the Syrian National Council (SNC), with long-time dissident Riad Seif touted as the potential head of a new government-in-exile dubbed the Syrian National Initiative. In a statement from Amman, a group of key opposition figures including Seif sought to quell concerns the overhaul is aimed at building an opposition that would be willing to negotiate with President Bashar al Assad.

“Assad and his entourage leaving power is a non-negotiable precondition for any dialogue aimed at finding a nonmilitary solution,” the group of 25 dissidents said after talks in the Jordanian capital.

The SNC lashed out at alleged US interference with the opposition on Friday, accusing Washington of undermining the country’s revolt and “sowing the seeds of division” by seeking the overhaul.

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