BEIRUT – A rebel unit of army defectors launched a major offensive against security facilities in Syria’s largest city of Aleppo, and anti-regime forces targeted air bases to try to reduce the military threat from the skies, activists said Friday.
The coordinated attacks by the Brigade of Free Syrians pointed to a higher-than-usual degree of planning by the rebels, suggesting that President Bashar Assad’s opponents are becoming more brazen as the civil war deepens.
The Local Coordination Committees, an activist group that monitors violence and rights abuses in Syria, said rebels shot down a helicopter in the town of Sarmeen, in the northeastern province of Idlib. An activist in the area also reported a helicopter was downed.
The reports could not be independently verified, but if confirmed, it would be the second such aircraft to be downed by rebels this week.
Nearly 18 months into the uprising against Assad that has become a civil war with more than 20,000 people estimated to have been killed, the International Red Cross painted a grim picture of life in Syria. It said the humanitarian needs of civilians were rising and medical care was becoming more and more scarce.
“People fear for their lives every minute of the day,” Marianne Gasser, the head of the ICRC delegation in Syria, said in a report released in Geneva.
The three coordinated attacks in the northern city of Aleppo began before midnight Thursday and ended Friday morning.
Weeks of intense bombardment by the Syrian military, including airstrikes and artillery shelling, have failed to dislodge the rebels. Instead, it seems to have emboldened them.
Assad’s military, the backbone of his 12-year rule, is bogged down in a stalemate for control of Aleppo and unable to crush the rebels in the capital of Damascus and its suburbs. It also is fighting smaller-scale battles in the south and east.
Dubbed “Northern Volcano,” the rebel offensive in Aleppo targeted an artillery training school, a compound of the feared air force intelligence, and a large army checkpoint, according to Mohammed Saeed, an activist based in the city, which is Syria’s commercial capital. The offensive will focus on specific military and intelligence targets in Aleppo and the surrounding province of the same name, he added.
The three simultaneous attacks left an unspecified number of troops dead or wounded and badly damaged the top floor of the main, two-story building in the air force intelligence compound, Saeed said via Skype.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also said rebels killed and wounded regime forces at an air force compound in Aleppo’s Zahraa neighborhood, but had no details on the other two attacks reported by Saeed.