Opposition fighters in Syria have seized a military air base and captured warplanes in the north of the country, as part of an assault on strategic northern targets.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Tuesday’s capture of the military airport at al-Jarah in Aleppo province. The London-based monitor said the fighters also seized for the first time a fleet of deployable warplanes including MiG fighter jets.
Speaking to the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity, a regime 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.”
During their assault on the airport, the fighters killed, injured or imprisoned 40 troops, the Observatory said. The remaining troops pulled out, leaving behind ammunition and warplanes.
Soon afterwards, the air force used fighter jets to bombard the airport in hopes of dislodging the fighters, the Observatory said. Warplanes also carried out raids near the international airport which has come under a rebel assault.
Activists in Aleppo have told the AFP news agency 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,” Abu Hisham, an Aleppo-based fighter, said via the Internet.
While fighters have seen 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 [an armed opposition group] have 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 rebel targets.
The authenticity of the video could not be verified.
According to UN figures, more than 60,000 people have been killed in violence across Syria since protests against Bashar al-Assad, Syrian president, began in March 2011.