Rebels have heightened their offensive in northern Syria, attacking Aleppo airport and two airbases, as the UN rights chief urged international action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Regime troops on Saturday fended off fierce rebel onslaughts around Aleppo international airport and the adjacent Nayrab military airbase, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
East of Aleppo, rebel attacks around the Kwiyres military airbase sparked counter-strikes from regime warplanes.
The insurgents launched the “Battle of the airports” on Tuesday, and they have since seized al-Jarrah military airport and a military complex tasked with securing Aleppo’s civilian airport.
Rebels on Saturday also overran a military police checkpoint in the Golan Heights town of Khan Arnabeh just beyond the outer ceasefire line along the demilitarized zone bordering Israel, the Observatory said. Regime forces responded by shelling Khan Arnabeh and the nearby village of Jubata al-Khashab, inside the ceasefire zone, forcing a rebel retreat.
The Israeli military said it had taken seven Syrians wounded in clashes on the Golan to a hospital inside the Jewish state, revising an earlier number of five.
The Golan has been tense since the near two-year Syrian uprising morphed into a bloody insurgency, at times spilling over with mortar and gunfire into the Israeli-held zone, but with serious escalation so far contained.
Meanwhile, UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi called yesterday for talks between the Syrian opposition and an “acceptable delegation” from the Damascus government on a political solution to the country’s 23-month-old civil war.
After talks at Arab League headquarters, Brahimi said negotiations could begin on UN premises. He gave no specific location.
The peace initiative announced last week by Moaz Alkhatib, leader of the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC), “has opened the door, and the Syrian government has said in truth that it confirms what it has been continuously saying, that it is ready for dialogue and for a peaceful solution,” he said. “We believe that if a dialogue begins at the offices of the United Nations, at least at the start, between the opposition and an acceptable delegation from the Syrian government, we think this will be a start to get out of the dark tunnel.”
It was unclear whether he had received any new confirmation of Syria’s willingness to enter into talks with Alkhatib and the SNC.
Northwestern Syria has fallen into a security vacuum, illustrated by reports on Saturday that more than 300 people were abducted in tit-for-tat kidnappings in 48 hours, the Britain-based Observatory and residents said.
The spate of abductions, involving large numbers of women and children, began on Thursday, when more than 40 civilians from majority-Shiite villages were kidnapped by armed groups in Idlib Province.
Hours later, more than 70 people from Sunni areas were seized in retaliation by gunmen from nearby Shiite villages. Subsequently, dozens more people from mostly Sunni opposition towns were captured.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Saturday said the international community was hesitating to take action on Syria, weighing up whether any military intervention would be worth it.
Urging that some sort of international action be taken against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Pillay repeated her call for him to be investigated for “crimes against humanity and war crimes.”
Asked by Britain’s Channel 4 television whether it would be difficult for the UN to intervene in a place like Syria, she said: “It’s an intergovernmental decision on what kind of action: intervention, peacekeeping, military intervention or a referral to the international criminal courts. We urge that action be taken immediately. If there is doubt or hesitation it is because people are assessing the value of military intervention in places like Libya, Syria and Afghanistan. It could become a long, drawn out war with no guarantees that civilians would not be harmed in that process.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at a security forum in Abu Dhabi called for urgent action to bring about a power transfer that excludes al-Assad.