Fierce fighting in Syria's north as estimated death toll tops 60,000

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 January, 2013, 5:23am


Furious combat raged around the main airport and a military airbase in northern Syria yesterday, a day after the United Nations gave a staggering toll of 60,000 dead in the 21-month civil war.

Insurgents besieged troops on the perimeter of the international airport in Aleppo, the hard fought-over principal city of Syria's north, and an air force base in Idlib province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Aleppo airport has been closed since Tuesday after repeated attacks by rebels, according to an airport official, who said it would reopen as soon as the army regained control of the surrounding area.

Rebels holding swathes of the north were targeted by regime shelling overnight in Aleppo's Sakhur district and in the towns of Marea and Aazaz farther north near the Turkish border.

Meanwhile, hundreds of fighters of two hardline Islamist rebel groups, the Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, fought soldiers around the Taftanaz airbase in the northwestern province of Idlib, the British-based Observatory said, adding that air strikes were blasting rebel positions.

The rebels had remotely detonated a bomb at one of the airbase's gates the day before but were pushed back by the army.

A military source said clashes outside the base had been non-stop for more than 48 hours and there had been a large number of rebel casualties.

Three rebels were killed in combat with troops around the Deir Ezzor military airport, as fighting also broke out in the nearby provincial capital in the east of the country.

In the town of Mleha, just east of Damascus, bodies were being recovered from a service station hit by a regime air strike on Wednesday.

The overall death toll of the 21-month conflict has unsettled observers. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called it "truly shocking" as she revealed a vetted UN tally nearly a third higher than that previously compiled by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"Given there has been no let-up in the conflict since the end of November, we can assume that more than 60,000 people have been killed by the beginning of 2013," Pillay said.