Middle East

Syria conflict: Army retakes airbase in Damascus suburb

Syrian government soldiers open fire in Hama province (11 October 2015) Image copyright AP
Image caption Government forces have launched a series of offensives to regain territory in recent months

Syrian government forces have regained control of a military airbase on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, activists and military sources say.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said soldiers retook Marj al-Sultan airbase on Monday, and were trying to secure the adjoining town.

But a military source told the AFP news agency that the town had also fallen.

Rebel forces seized the airbase, in the Ghouta agricultural belt around the capital, in November 2012.

Its capture is a rare victory for the government in an area considered an opposition stronghold.

The Syrian Observatory, a UK-based monitoring group, reported that the government offensive on Marj al-Sultan began about a month ago.

The army was backed by fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, it added.

'Unacceptable' attacks

On Sunday, at least 45 people were killed as government forces bombarded the nearby rebel-held suburbs of Douma, Saqba, Arbeen and Harasta, according to the Syrian Observatory and the opposition Local Co-ordination Committees.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The government's bombardment of the Ghouta region on Sunday left dozens dead and wounded

The attacks came after rebel shellfire killed six people, including two children, in government-held areas in and around Damascus, state media reported.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O'Brien said he was "deeply saddened" by the violence during a visit to the capital on Monday.

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

More than 250,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began four and a half years ago.

Mr O'Brien said a further 6.5 million Syrians were now internally displaced, two million children were out of school, and 72% of the population had no access to drinking water. More than 4.3 million Syrians have also fled abroad.