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Syrian rebels take control of strategic airbase

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Syrian rebels take control of strategic airbase
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Syrian rebels have taken control of a strategic airbase in Idlib province in the north of the country.

Anti-Assad fighters claim the Free Syrian Army is now in control of the Taftanaz air field after days of fierce fighting with government troops.

Hundreds of rebels have besieged the base since November, but the tide turned when Islamist fighters reinforced them earlier this month.

As the blood letting continued international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi held talks with senior US and Russian officials in Geneva.

The negotiations, behind closed doors, appear deadlocked as the two world powers disagree over Assad’s fate in any transition.

The Syrian government has branded Brahimi as “flagrantly biased” casting doubt on his ability to orchestrate an end to the 21-month-old conflict.

For the war-weary Syrian people severe weather is adding to the difficulties.

As hundreds flee the fighting on a daily basis Saudi Arabia has announced a 7.5 million euro aid package to assist Syrian refugees stranded in Jordan.

As many as 600,000 refugees have been displaced since the conflict began and more than 60,000 people have lost their lives.

Tactical gain

Not everyone agreed that the capture of Taftanaz was a big boost for the rebels.

Yezid Sayigh, senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut, said Taftanaz’s capture would help the rebels as they try to secure a continuous area in the north.

But he played down the broader military significance, pointing out it had taken the rebels months to take a base the government already could not use because of the fighting.

“This is a tactical gain rather than a strategic gain,” Sayigh said.

Despite capturing territory across the country’s north and east, the rebels have been plagued by divisions, a lack of equipment and disorganisation.

They have also seen their support from civilians erode in some areas because of poor discipline, looting and bad living conditions.