Syria rebels take airbase ahead of 'major battle'

Syrian rebels captured a military airbase in the north on Friday and geared up for a major battle against loyalists as the opposition said it refuses to accept President Bashar al-Assad in talks on the 23-month conflict.

The rebels, from the Islamist Al-Nusra Front and the Muhajireen battalion, overran the base in Sfeira, east of Aleppo international airport, and captured a large stockpile of ammunition, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based watchdog also reported intermittent clashes around the Aleppo airport itself as well as around Nayrab airbase and another military complex, as the two sides squared up for a major fight.

"The army shelled the area around Aleppo international airport and Nayrab air base on Friday morning, while rebels used home-made rockets to shell Nayrab," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

"The army is preparing a large-scale operation to take back control of Base 80," he added, referring to a military complex tasked with the security of both Nayrab and Aleppo airports.

Rebels seized the base on Wednesday after a battle that left at least 150 dead from both sides, among them senior army officers, according to the Observatory.

Regime tanks, meanwhile, shelled the town of Khan Sheikhun in the province of Idlib, killing at least 11 civilians, the Observatory said, adding that at least 107 people were killed in violence nationwide on Friday.

In Damascus, the army shelled the eastern district of Jobar where rebels have set up enclaves, the Britain-based group said.

It also said more than 100 civilians have been abducted in Idlib province in separate incidents, expressing alarm at what it called "sectarian kidnappings."

As they have done every Friday, Syrians protested across the country after weekly prayers to denounce what they called the "inaction" of the international community over the Syria crisis.

"In spite of you, O Bashar, we have our freedom!" chanted protesters in Sukkari, a rebel-held district of Aleppo.

State television broadcast footage of what it said was a pro-regime demonstration in Aleppo, and said residents had called for "armed men to leave their city."

On the political front, the opposition National Coalition said it refuses to accept Assad in any talks, as part of an eight-point "framework" it has drawn up for solutions to the conflict.

The Coalition issued the framework after a meeting in Cairo to discuss a proposal by its chief, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, for peace talks with regime representatives, a move that ruffled feathers in the umbrella opposition group.

"Bashar Assad and security leadership who are responsible for the current destruction of the country are outside the political process and must be held accountable for their crimes," it said in a statement issued in English.

Meanwhile, Syria has written to the United Nations blasting Turkey's "destructive" role in the conflict, state media reported.

"Turkey supports and publicly justifies terrorist, destructive acts" against Syria, the foreign ministry wrote in letters addressed to both the UN Security Council and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

"Turkey has turned its territory into camps used to house, train, finance and infiltrate armed terrorist groups, chief among them the Al-Qaeda network and the Al-Nusra Front."

The International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva said the plight of civilians in Syria has reached catastrophic levels.

"After two years with no end to the military conflict, the situation of the civilian population has reached nothing short of catastrophic" proportions, ICRC Director of Operations Pierre Kraehenbuehl told reporters.

"There is no respite."

The ICRC has been aiding some 1.5 million Syrians, via the Syrian Arab Crescent, in a conflict that the UN says has left some 70,000 people dead.

The United Nations has also said the number of Syrians who have fled the country could hit 1.1 million by June.

Customs officers in Finland, meanwhile, said they had seized spare parts for tanks in a container en route from Russia to Syria on board a Finnish ship docked at Helsinki's Vuosaari port in January.

The European Union has banned all sales, delivery, transfers and exports of weapons to Syria.

  • 2015 Nissan Murano aims for the style-forward crowd 12 hours ago
    2015 Nissan Murano aims for the style-forward crowd

    Nissan says its 2015 Murano crossover, only the second major revamp of the car since it debuted in 2003, draws its design cues from the “age of future space flight.” That’s probably taking it a little far, but the new Murano, based off the 2013 Resonance concept vehicle, is an exceptionally lovely machine, all fluid, curved metal on the outside, and flowing, soft-touch materials on the inside. Certain kinds of comfort and charms that were unheard-of outside of premium vehicles five years ago have definitely trickled down, and reached a kind of design apotheosis with this car.

  • Volkswagen brings new (ish) Jetta to New York along with Golf Sportwagen 15 hours ago
    Volkswagen brings new (ish) Jetta to New York along with Golf Sportwagen

    With its new President and CEO of America, Michael Horn, on stage in New York after just 100 days on the job, Volkswagen debuted its 2015 Jetta. You'd be forgiven for noticing little differences compared to the outgoing model, and in the words of Horn himself, the changes are indeed subtle. The most notable of those subtleties is the all-new 2.0 liter turbo diesel motor, offering 45 mpg highway and a modest increase of 10 hp. For VW, diesel is where it's at.

  • With Vantage GT, Aston Martin races below $100,000 15 hours ago
    With Vantage GT, Aston Martin races below $100,000

    Aston Martin is going downmarket, sort of. The 2015 Vantage GT, a sport-styled variant of Aston’s legendary flagship car, draws style and performance tips from their GT4 race cars, which will be running in North America this year. It’s also priced at $99,900, which shows that the market for these kinds of consumer sports cars has boomed in recent years.

  • ‘Huge’ Hindu, Buddhist statues against Islam, ex-judge says
    ‘Huge’ Hindu, Buddhist statues against Islam, ex-judge says

    KUALA LUMPUR, April 16 — The “huge” statues at a Hindu temple in Batu Caves and Buddhist temple in Penang are an affront to Islam as the religion forbids idolatry, a retired Court of Appeals judge...

  • StarHub 4G users to be charged from June as promo ends
    StarHub 4G users to be charged from June as promo ends

    Are you on the 4G or LTE mobile data network under StarHub? If so, you’ll have to start paying for the service.

  • Over 280 missing after South Korean ferry capsizes
    Over 280 missing after South Korean ferry capsizes

    By Narae Kim JINDO South Korea (Reuters) - More than 280 people, many of them students from the same high school, were missing after a ferry capsized off South Korea on Wednesday, in what could be the country's biggest maritime disaster in over 20 years. It was not immediately clear why the Sewol ferry listed heavily on to its side and capsized in apparently calm conditions off South Korea's southwest coast, but some survivors spoke of a loud noise prior to the disaster.