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Syrian rebels capture helicopter base

AMMAN — Syrian rebels said yesterday they had captured a helicopter base east of Damascus after an overnight assault, their latest gain in a costly battle to unseat President Bashar al-Assad that is drawing nearer to his seat of power.

The Marj al-Sultan base, 15 kilometres from the capital, is the second military facility on the outskirts of the city reported to have fallen to Assad’s opponents this month.

Activists said rebels had destroyed two helicopters and taken 15 prisoners.

“We are coming for you Bashar,” a rebel shouted in an Internet video of what activists said was Marj al-Sultan. Restrictions on non-state media meant it could not be verified.

The rebels have been tightening their hold on farmland and urban centres to the east and northeast of Damascus while a major battle has been underway for a week in the suburb of Daraya near the main highway south.

Rebel siege

“We are seeing the starting signs of a rebel siege of Damascus,” veteran opposition campaigner Fawaz Tello said from Berlin. “Marj al-Sultan is very near to the Damascus Airport road and to the airport itself. The rebels appear to be heading toward cutting this as well as the main northern artery to Aleppo.”

Assad’s core forces, drawn mainly from his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam that has dominated power in Syria for nearly five decades, are entrenched in the capital.

They also have devastating air superiority although they have failed to prevent rebels increasing their presence on the edge of the capital and in neighbourhoods on the periphery.

Air strike kills children

A Syrian government air strike on the rebel-held village of Deir al-Asafir, 12 kilometres east of Damascus, killed 10 children on Sunday, opposition activists said.

Internet video footage also showed residents collecting young bodies hit by shrapnel. A sobbing woman picked up the lifeless body of a girl, while the bodies of two boys were shown in the back seat of a car. (Reuters)

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