Syria regime, allies recapture key airbase near Damascus

Syria regime, allies recapture key airbase near Damascus

Syria regime, allies recapture key airbase near Damascus

Smoke billows after air strikes by regime forces on the town of Douma in the eastern Ghouta region, a rebel stronghold east of the capital Damascus, on December 13, 2015. AFP Photo

Syrian troops recaptured a military airport and nearby town east of Damascus on Dec. 14, more than three years after they were overrun by rebel groups, a military source said. 

“The Syrian army has taken full control of the town of Marj al-Sultan and its airport in Eastern Ghouta,” a rebel bastion east of the capital, the military source said, according to Reuters. 

According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the government forces were backed by fighters from the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah.

They fully secured the airport on Dec. 14 afternoon but “are still working to secure the town,” where some rebels remain, said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

On the same day a French-led ministerial meeting on Syria was scheduled to be held in Paris, to which U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was to attend. On Dec. 15, Kerry will visit Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to hold talks on Syria.

Before Kerry’s visit, Russia stepped up its criticism of U.S. policy on Syria, saying the United States had not shown it was ready to cooperate fully in the struggle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants. 

Russia would continue to urge Washington to rethink its policy of “dividing terrorists into good and bad ones,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Dec. 14, Reuters reported. 

Meanwhile, Russian army’s general staff Valery Gerasimov’s remarks that Russia’s air force is conducting dozens of air strikes in Syria daily to support the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighting alongside government troops against ISIL were denied by both the Russian president’s aide and the FSA itself. 

“The number of these Free Syrian Army units is rising all the time,” Gerasimov said. “Only to support them, Russia’s aviation is conducting daily 30-40 strikes. They are also provided with weapons, ammunition and material support,” Reuters quoted Gerasimov as saying according to Russian agencies.

Russia does not supply the FSA with weapons, RIA news agency cited Vladimir Kozhin, President Vladimir Putin’s aide for military and technical cooperation, as saying on Dec. 14. 

FSA rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad in western Syria denied receiving any support from the Russian air force, saying that on the contrary it continued to bomb them and rejecting comments by Gerasimov.