NEAR ALEPPO, Syria/WASHINGTON: Syrian rebels used tanks to attack a military airport northwest of Aleppo on Thursday, a rebel commander said, as a human rights group reported 67 people killed in violence nationwide.
“We had already attacked the airport several times, but this was the first time we used heavy weapons,” which were “four tanks taken from Anadan,” rebel commander Abdel Aziz Salameh told AFP, referring to a strategic military checkpoint outside Aleppo that the rebels captured on Monday.
“The destruction was greater than the time before,” he added.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights earlier reported the rebel attack on Menagh military airport, 30 kilometres northwest of the commercial capital.
An AFP reporter who heard and saw the bombardment said rebels told him it was “an attack to take this airport being used by helicopters and planes that are firing on Aleppo.
The rebel Free Syrian Army has said it now controls “50 percent” of Aleppo, where the army is bombarding rebel-held areas, notably Salaheddin in the southwest, but has yet to advance on the ground.
Questioned about the lack of retaliation by the army, which is massed around Aleppo, a security source said that “the regime is testing the terrorists’ defences in order to uncover their hiding places before annihilating them in a major surgical operation.”
Mobile phone and Internet services, cut since Wednesday night, were being gradually restored in Aleppo by Thursday afternoon.
In the capital Damascus, heavy fighting erupted in the southern Tadamun district, the Syrian Observatory said.
“Syrian troops withdrew from the neighbourhood following heavy clashes with rebel battalions, which resulted in the killing of four rebels and at least three soldiers,” the Britain-based watchdog added.
And for the first time, regime forces raided the exclusive Muhajireen neighbourhood of north Damascus, arresting about 20 young men.
At least 67 people — 36 civilians, 16 soldiers and 15 rebels — were killed across the country Thursday, according to the Observatory.
It remains very difficult to get a clear picture of the situation on the ground in Syria, due to a scarcity of independent sources and heavy restrictions on the press.
Meanwhile, the United States on Thursday blamed the resignation of UN peace envoy Kofi Annan on the refusal of Russia and China to back resolutions targeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
White House spokesman Jay Carney, speaking aboard Air Force One, said that Annan’s departure also underscored the refusal of the Assad regime to halt murderous attacks against its own people.
“Annan’s resignation highlights the failure at the United Nations Security Council of Russia and China to support meaningful resolutions against Assad that would have held Assad accountable,” Carney said.
Carney also said that Obama appreciated the former UN secretary general’s willingness to serve as envoy to Syria and for his efforts to bring about a peaceful transition amid a bitter fighting between Assad’s forces and rebels.
Annan said he quit as UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Thursday because of a lack of support and the increasing militarization of the conflict. “I did not receive all the support that the cause deserved,” Annan told a hastily scheduled press conference in Geneva.
He added that “continuous finger-pointing and name-calling” in the UN Security Council had hindered his attempts to implement the so-called six-point peace plan.
Russia and China have three times blocked possible sanctions against Syria, triggering outrage from the United States and its allies.