Syria opposition advances despite losing 62 fighters in ambush by President Assad's forces

Jihadists seize military airport near Aleppo and claim to have killed 200 government troops

The Syrian army killed 62 rebels in an ambush near Damascus today, just as the opposition looked to be making advances on two fronts in northern Syria.

Bloody corpses, some in uniform, were shown on Syrian television, which said the rebels were on their way to attack a government post near Adra, a north-eastern suburb of Damascus. The rebels were reportedly shot dead as they moved on foot along what they believed to be a secret route not known to the Syrian army. 

In northern Syria jihadi rebels linked to al-Qa’ida are playing a leading role in attacks on key strategic points. In Latakia they claimed to have killed 200 pro-government soldiers and militiamen in fighting for half a dozen villages. The violence is likely to spark sectarian hostility because the Sunni insurgents are targeting mountain villages inhabited by members of the Alawite sect to which President Bashar al-Assad and many leaders of his government also belong. Hundreds of villagers have sought refuge on the coast.

In a further gain for the rebels, Islamist fighters have taken control of Menagh military airport near Aleppo after months of skirmishes. A statement issued by nine brigades carrying out the assault on the airport, including the al-Qa’ida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), said that “the airport has been fully liberated. The remnants of the Assad gangs are now being chased”.

The command headquarters of the airport were over-run on Monday by ISIL rebels after a suicide bomber drove an armoured personnel carrier packed with explosives into the building.

The leading role in these rebel advances of the al-Nusra Front and the ISIL, which is also carrying on an insurgency in Iraq heavily reliant on suicide bombers, is likely to complicate Western supporters of the opposition. The government’s claims that the al-Qa’ida linked fundamentalists are the backbone of the opposition may be exaggerated. But there is plenty of evidence that ISIL and al-Nusra Front, both of which have jihadi volunteers from abroad, are more effective than the Western-backed Free Syrian Army.

After the ambush of rebels near Damascus, state-run Al-Ikhbariya television showed a Tunisian passport picked at scene from the body of a bearded man who was born in 1978. It also showed Islamic headbands and automatic rifles that were apparently carried by the rebels.

Mohammed Saeed, an activist who is based near Damascus, told the Associated Press says that 65 rebels were on their way from the eastern suburbs of the capital to the nearby area of Qalamoun when all but three were killed. A local activist added that the rebels were walking the 19-mile route because it is dangerous to drive in the area as it is watched by regime forces. “The regime forces riddled them with heavy machine gun fire,” he said. “It seems that the regime discovered the secret road that the rebels were using.”

Around Aleppo and Latakia the rebels have the advantage of the nearby Turkish border which is open to them. They also control much of the Euphrates Valley west of the border with Iraq. Further south around Homs and Damascus their supply lines are often cut and the Syrian army has been sealing off enclaves and reducing them one by one. Their inhabitants generally flee to avoid the fighting. Both sides are in a position to make gains but not to deliver a knock-out blow which would lead to victory in the war.

Meanwhile Saudi Arabia has reportedly offered Russia a deal whereby it would scale back weapons supplies to Syria in return for weapons purchases worth $15bn and a promise that gas from the Gulf would not compete with Russia. It is unlikely Russia will reduce its backing for President Assad given that its support for Syria is aimed at restoring its pre-eminence as a great power.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk