Syrian rebels say capture air base east of Damascus

AMMAN Sun Nov 25, 2012 11:07am GMT

Free Syrian Army fighters ride a motorcycle in Daria, near Damascus November 24, 2012. REUTERS/Fadi Al-Derani/Shaam News Network/Handout

Free Syrian Army fighters ride a motorcycle in Daria, near Damascus November 24, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Fadi Al-Derani/Shaam News Network/Handout

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AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian rebels said on Sunday they had captured a helicopter base 15 km (10 miles) east of Damascus after an overnight battle, the second military facility on the outskirts of the capital to fall to President Bashar al-Assad's opponents this month.

An Internet video which activists said was filmed at the Marj al-Sultan base showed rebel fighters carrying AK-47 rifles touring the facility. An anti-aircraft gun could be seen positioned on top of an empty bunker and a rebel commander was shown next to a helicopter.

"With God's help, the Marj al-Sultan airbase in eastern Ghouta has been liberated," the commander said in the video. Eastern Ghouta, a mix of agricultural land and built-up urban areas, has been a rebel stronghold for months.

Activists said two helicopters were destroyed in the attack as well as a radar station, and that 15 personnel were taken prisoner.

With severe restrictions by Syrian authorities on non-state media, independent verification was not possible.

Footage from Saturday evening showed rebels firing rocket-propelled grenades at the base, and what appeared to be a helicopter engulfed in flames.

Last week rebels briefly captured an air defence base near the southern Damascus district of Hajar al-Aswad, seizing weapons and equipment before pulling out to avoid retaliation from Assad's air force.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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