Aleppo - Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad backed by
a dawn barrage of artillery fire and airstrikes drove Syrian rebels from a
strategic military base near the disputed northern city of Aleppo on Friday, a
local photographer said.
The advance into Base 80, a large military position which
rebels have held since February, will help Assad's forces move towards
rebel-held areas of Aleppo city and follows a string of successful offensives
A photographer, who supplies pictures to Reuters, arrived
at the scene about 1km from the base at dawn and said he saw around two dozen
airstrikes and artillery hit insurgent positions.
Rebels from Liwa al-Tawid, the largest insurgent force in
Aleppo, told him that their unit as well as dozens of others had been pushed
out of most parts of the base but were regrouping to retake the area, next to
Aleppo International Airport, which is still under government control.
Rebels told him 25 of their fighters had died.
A monitoring group that uses a network of pro- and
anti-Assad sources said that the offensive was aided by the Lebanese Shi'ite
militant group Hezbollah and pro-Assad militia.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that
hard-line Islamist rebel units linked to al-Qaeda also took part in the
clashes, which it said killed at least 15 rebels and several pro-Assad
State media did not mention the offensive.
The armed forces captured the town of Safira, 20km south
east of Aleppo, a week ago.
The army said at the time that Safira would be used to
send in medicine and supplies to government-controlled areas of Aleppo, mired
in a bloody stalemate for over a year.
Its capture would have helped Friday's attack on Base 80,
on the southeastern fringes of the city.
Assad's forces also took the strategic southern town of
Sbeineh near Damascus on Thursday, threatening rebel control of the wider area
and cutting off a supply route for insurgents around the capital.
After two -and-a-half years of war, which started when
Assad's forces fired on pro-democracy protests, the fighting has settled into a
broad stalemate in which more than 100 are killed every day.
More than 100 000 have died since the start of the
conflict, the United Nations says, and millions more are displaced.