Syrian troops seize military air base in Damascus suburb

BEIRUT -- Syrian troops and allied militiamen seized control of a sprawling military air base near Damascus on Monday, bolstering the government's presence in a key area overwhelmingly controlled by opposition forces.

See Full Article

The Marj al-Sultan air base lies in the eastern suburb of Damascus known as Eastern Ghouta, and had been held by rebels for the past three years.

The capture is a rare victory for the government in an area considered an opposition stronghold. It bolsters the government's hold over Damascus International Airport and splits rebel-held areas.

The capture was reported by Al-Manar TV, the channel of Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah group, whose fighters are battling alongside Syrian troops under Russian air cover.

Pro-government websites and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on activists inside Syria, also reported the capture of Marj al-Sultan on Monday.

Fighting on the ground in Syria has intensified even as the international community makes its most serious push yet to restart peace talks between President Bashar Assad's government and the rebels.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to Russia for talks aimed at narrowing gaps with Russian leaders over a political transition to end the country's nearly five-year civil war.

Before departing, Kerry will attend a French-hosted foreign ministers meeting to compare notes on a conference of Syrian opposition figures held last week in Saudi Arabia.

Washington and Moscow are deeply divided over the political process they both agree is needed to end the war in Syria.

In Sunday's government attacks, at least 45 people were killed in the Douma, Saqba and Arbeen suburbs -- all part of the Eastern Ghouta region -- according to the Local Coordination Committees and the Observatory.

The attacks followed volleys of mortar shells fired into Damascus by rebels in the area that had killed three people, including a child, just hours earlier.

On Monday, a visiting UN official said the humanitarian situation in the war-ravaged country is "a blot on our collective conscience."

Speaking to reporters in Damascus at the end of a three-day visit during which he travelled to the central Syrian city of Homs and met with officials in the Syrian capital, humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien said he was "deeply saddened" by the uptick in violence.

"This is a tragic reminder of the urgency of finding a political solution and security, a nationwide cease-fire," he said. "Such indiscriminate attacks are unacceptable and we must do our utmost to protect innocent civilians."

Around 6.5 million Syrians are internally displaced, O'Brien said. Two million children are out of school, and 72 per cent of the population has no access to drinking water, he added.

"This situation is unacceptable," he said.

Also Monday, the head of Russia's military general staff said rebels of the Free Syrian Army are receiving weapons from Moscow -- comments that come just days after a Kremlin spokesman denied it.

Gen. Valery Gerasimov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that Russia is supporting the FSA with airstrikes and is also helping "with weapons, ammunition and material." The statement appeared to suggest Russia was supplying the weapons, but the military could not be reached for clarification.

Last week, President Vladimir Putin said the rebels, who oppose Moscow's ally Assad, were receiving weapons from Russia, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later said Putin meant Assad's army was getting weapons and the rebels were receiving only air support.

FSA's chief of staff has denied receiving Russian weapons.

If Russia were supplying weapons to the FSA, it would likely be with the understanding that they would direct their fire at the Islamic State group, rather than the Moscow-allied government.

Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • 12 dead in hotel fire in Georgia's Black Sea resort

    World News CTV News
    TBILISI, Georgia -- The Georgian Interior Ministry says 12 people have died in a fire in a hotel in the Black Sea resort city of Batumi. Russia's TASS news agency is quoting the ministry as saying the fire engulfed the Leogrand hotel late Friday evening. Source
  • Canadian charged in Yahoo hacking case to plead guilty in U.S., court records say

    Canada News CBC News
    A Canadian accused by the United States of helping Russian intelligence agents break into email accounts as part of a massive 2014 breach of Yahoo accounts is expected to plead guilty next week, according to court records. Source
  • Notley wins over Calgary business crowd, starting with 'eastern bastards' remark

    Canada News CBC News
    Two years after struggling through a speech in front of an awkwardly silent business crowd, Rachel Notley stood before the Calgary Chamber again on Friday and opened with a joke. "I spent the earlier part of the week out in Ontario — you know, the home of those eastern bastards," the Alberta premier said. Source
  • Starting with 'eastern bastards' remark, Notley wins over Calgary business crowd

    Canada News CBC News
    Two years after struggling through a speech in front of an awkwardly silent business crowd, Rachel Notley stood before the Calgary Chamber again on Friday and opened with a joke. "I spent the earlier part of the week out in Ontario — you know, the home of those eastern bastards," the Alberta premier said. Source
  • Jewish group, residents of Ontario town urge new name for 'Swastika Trail'

    Canada News CTV News
    A major Jewish advocacy group in Canada has stepped up efforts to help some residents of an Ontario town convince local politicians to rename a street currently called Swastika Trail. B'nai Brith Canada started an online petition Thursday calling on Puslinch Township, about 75 kilometres west of Toronto, to change the street name. Source
  • Fraud trial of the 'Muslim Madoff' adjourned after accused fires lawyer: Crown

    Canada News CBC News
    The trial of a Toronto businessman charged with fraud for allegedly pocketing millions in "Shariah-compliant" mortgages has been delayed until next fall — just as it was beginning. The opening day of the trial for Omar Kalair, dubbed the "Muslim Madoff" by some of the homeowners who were allegedly left thousands in the hole after buying into the mortgages marketed to Muslims, got underway earlier this month. Source
  • False killer whale is latest cetacean to die at Vancouver Aquarium

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Aquarium says the false killer whale it rescued off a beach over three years ago has died at the facility. The aquarium says in a statement that Chester's behaviour changed Wednesday and despite intensive veterinary care, he died this morning. Source
  • 'Chester' is 4th cetacean dead at Vancouver Aquarium this year

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER -- A false killer whale has died at the Vancouver Aquarium, becoming the fourth cetacean to die at the facility in the past year. The aquarium said in a statement that Chester's behaviour changed Wednesday and despite intensive veterinary care, he died on Friday morning. Source
  • Politician's baby banned from municipal assembly in Japan

    World News CBC News
    A baby brought into a Japanese municipal assembly chamber by his lawmaker mother was promptly ejected because his presence was against the rules, an official said on Friday, highlighting the hurdles faced by working women in Japan. Source
  • Senior Ukraine separatist: Rebel chief has resigned

    World News CTV News
    MINSK, Belarus -- A senior separatist official in eastern Ukraine on Friday announced the resignation of thebeleaguered rebel chief in an apparent palace coup, ending a four-day showdown between rivaling factions. Leonid Pasechnik, state security minister of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic, said in a statement on Friday evening that the republic's chief Igor Plotnitsky has resigned on health grounds. Source