Syrian army seizes airbase from IS, say military source, monitor

BEIRUT: Syria’s army captured an airbase in eastern Aleppo from the IS group on Saturday, after more than two months of fierce clashes, a military source and monitor said. The Jarrah airbase had been under IS control since January 2014, when the extremists seized it from rebels who had captured it a year earlier. “Regime forces took control of the Jarrah military airport after heavy fighting,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor. “The majority of the extremists have withdrawn, and regime forces are carrying out clearing operations in the airport and engaged in limited clashes with remaining IS elements,” he added.
Syria’s army launched an offensive against IS in eastern Aleppo province in mid-January, backed by ally Russia.
So far it has taken control of more than 170 villages and towns in the area, according to the Britain-based monitor. A military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, also confirmed the capture of the military base. “The Syrian army has completed its capture of Jarrah airport and a number of the surrounding villages,” he said.
“It will continue its advances into the areas held by the terrorist organisation and… expand the areas it controls in eastern Aleppo province,” he added. The next key target for government forces in the area will likely be the town of Maskana, on the edge of Lake Assad. Syria’s army is just one of the forces battling IS in the country.
An alliance of Syrian Kurds and Arabs is also fighting the group further east, in Raqa province, with support from the US-led coalition.
More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Syrian rebels and their families left a besieged Damascus suburb on Friday, the second group to do so as part of a local evacuation agreement with the government, state media and a war monitor reported.
State news agency SANA said 1,246 people, of whom 718 were militants, left the Barzeh and neighbouring Tishreen districts which lie northeast of Damascus and near the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta pocket of towns and farms which has been blockaded by government forces since 2013.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitoring group, said about 700 people left on Friday, including about 150 fighters. The first batch of evacuations from Barzeh happened on Monday. Syrian President Bashar al Assad has promoted the use of such evacuations, along with what his government calls “reconciliation” deals for rebel-held areas that surrender to the government, as a way of reducing bloodshed in the six-year-old civil war. — AFP/Reuters