DAMASCUS: Rebels on Thursday attacked one of the few army bases in northwestern Syria still in the hands of loyalist forces, hours before peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was to brief the UN on the nation’s civil war.
The rebel assault came as Spain announced it had recognised the Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, boosting the opposition’s bid to win wide support for its campaign to topple President Bashar Al Assad.
Several rebel brigades attacked the fortress-like Wadi Daif base in Idlib province, while the army responded with shelling as fighting raged outside the nearby insurgent-held town of Maaret Al Numan, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government, meanwhile, said it recognised the Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and had invited the head of the group, Ahmed Moaz Al Khatib, to visit Spain.
Rebels bombed the house of a top member of the country’s ruling Baath party in the south on Thursday, killing him and his three body guards, activists said.
Early Thursday, rebels detonated a car bomb near the house of Hussein Rifai in Daraa, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, killing Rifai and his bodyguards.
An air strike on Thursday on three buildings in Syria’s war-torn commercial capital Aleppo killed at least 15 civilians, including five children and two women, a monitoring group said.
The raid on the district of Ansari in the southwest of the city also left 20 people wounded, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which released videos showing the casualties and extensive damage caused in the area.
In one video posted on YouTube by activists, a group of men can be seen digging furiously by hand, only to lift the lifeless body of a child from below the dusty rubble, his head limp on his chest.
The area was hit with barrel bombs dropped from the air, activists said.
Fighting forced the closure of the road between Damascus and its international airport on Thursday, a watchdog said.
“The road to Damascus international airport was closed because of ongoing fighting and military operations in the surrounding areas,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Employees at the airport confirmed that the road was closed and were unable to say when it would be open again, local residents said. Syrian rebels have recently obtained up to 40 shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, the
Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing Western and Middle Eastern intelligence officials.
Some of the missiles were supplied in the past weeks by Qatar, the newspaper reported, citing two unnamed Middle Eastern intelligence officials with knowledge of the matter.
The US government has opposed arming Syrian rebels with such weapons, fearing that they could eventually land in the hands of terrorists. US intelligence officials declined to comment on the report.
The report comes after the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday that the Syrian rebels downed an army helicopter with a ground-to-air missile.
Separately campaigners said on Thursday that the Syrian regime was the only government in the world to lay new landmines this year.
Campaigners issued an annual report on the use and effect of the devastating weapons on Thursday.
“Only one government — Syria — has used antipersonnel landmines in 2012,” the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) said in a statement, down from four last year and the lowest number since the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty was signed in 1997.
In its 2012 Landmine Monitor report, the ICBL also hailed record high levels of funding for mine clearance and a dramatic reduction in the number of people killed by the explosive devices over the past decade.
These developments are “a testament to the achievements of the Mine Ban Treaty over the past 15 years and that’s the good news,” report editor Mark Hiznay said in the statement.