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Syrian rebels seize key air base; ramp up offensive

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By The Associated Press
Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, 7:24 p.m.

Syrian rebels and Islamic militants overran a major military air base in the north on Friday and, buoyed by the victory, intensified their offensive on two other bases in their most aggressive campaign yet to erode the air supremacy on which the regime of President Bashar Assad has increasingly relied the past year.

The rebels control the ground in large parts of the north, but they have been unable to solidify their grip because they — and civilians in rebel-held regions — come under withering strikes from aircraft stationed at a number of military bases in the area.

The Taftanaz air base in Idlib province is the largest air base to be captured by the rebels. It is the biggest field in the north for helicopters the military uses for strikes on rebels and for delivering supplies to government troops in the north to avoid the danger of meeting rebels on the roads.

Shortly after they captured the Taftanaz field, rebels in the neighboring province of Aleppo intensified their assault on the Mannagh air base and the international airport of the city of Aleppo, which includes a military base. Rebels have been trying to capture the two sites since last week.

International envoy Lakhdar Brahimi expressed little hope for a political solution soon to Syria's nearly two-year-old civil war after meeting on Friday with Russian and U.S. diplomats at the U.N. European headquarters. “If you are asking me whether a solution is around the corner, I'm not sure that is the case,” he said.

In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman said Brahimi's talks produced “some progress.”

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