Syrian rebels have seized an air defence facility and attacked an eastern Syria military airport

Saturday 01 September 2012 20.15
President Bashar al-Assad is battling a 17-month uprising
President Bashar al-Assad is battling a 17-month uprising

Rebels in Syria have seized an air defence facility and attacked a military airport in the east of the country.

Rebels in Deir al-Zor overran an air defence building, taking at least 16 captives and seizing an unknown number of anti-aircraft rockets.

Video posted on the internet showed officers and soldiers captured by rebel fighters.

Al Arabiya television also broadcast footage of what it said were rockets and ammunition seized in the raid.

Rami Abdulrahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that rebels also attacked the Hamdan military airbase at Albu Kamal, but did not succeed in breaking into it.

The attacks in eastern oil-producing Deir al-Zor province follow rebel strikes against military airports in the Aleppo and Idlib areas, close to the border with Turkey.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is battling a 17-month-old uprising in which 20,000 people have been killed.

President Assad has lost control of rural areas in northern, eastern and southern regions and has resorted to helicopter gunships and fighter jets to subdue rebels.

The aerial bombardment has driven fresh waves of refugees into neighbouring countries.

The arrivals of the refugees has revived Turkish calls for "safe zones" to be set up on Syrian territory.

These appeals by Turkey are being ignored by a divided UN Security Council and by Western powers reluctant to commit the military forces needed to secure such zones.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, a former ally of Mr Assad, has showed his frustration at the lack of international action.

Mr Erdogan said: "We cannot take such a measure unless the United Nations Security Council decides in favour of it.

"First a decision for the no-fly zone must be taken, then we would be able to take a step towards a buffer zone.

"Bashar al-Assad has come to the end of his political life. At the moment, Assad is acting in Syria not as a politician, but as an element, an actor, of war."

Meanwhile, Jordan has said it was "stretched to the limit" by the influx of refugees from southern Syria.

Jordan has accepted 70,000 registered refugees, but says it is hosting 140,000 in local communities.

Planning Minister Jafaar Hassan said the influx was "reaching limits that the government cannot continue to shoulder".