Syrian rebels are staging raids on major military bases across the north of the country, in an attempt to counter the regime’s increasing use of devastating air strikes.
Unable to progress in major cities where the regime has used air power to bombard their positions, rebels have now changed tactics in the deadlocked civil war by fighting for control of the bases.
Rebels are laying siege to an air intelligence base west of Aleppo and an airbase to the north of it, and fighting on the edge of two artillery bases either side of the city.
In the strategic town of Maarat al-Numan in Idlib province, where rebels have cut the main road supplying the north of the country, the regime hit back with air strikes around two further bases being attacked by the Free Syrian Army.
The regime was also forced to use air power to support troops fighting rebels inside the capital Damascus itself for the first time on Tuesday, hitting the eastern district of Jobar.
There have been repeated air strikes across the country and particularly around Damascus since Sunday, despite the United Nations-backed ceasefire which formally ended at midnight on Monday. The strikes on the capital came amid reports a senior air force general had been shot dead by rebels in the city on Monday night.
Repeated assaults in the last two months by either side in major cities like Homs and Aleppo have moved front lines forward but rarely by more than a few hundred yards.
As the civil war has spread across the country, the rebels have slowly begun to take a more strategic approach. In Maarat al-Numan, after months of fighting, they finally managed to seize the main road from Damascus to Aleppo, which can now only receive supplies from Latakia to the west.
They are now attacking Wadi al-Deif, a military base 500 yards east off the road which is still in regime hands. On Tuesday, air force jets hit back, with some strikes hitting the town itself. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based activist group, said seven civilians, including four children, were killed.
In Aleppo, rebel forces fanning out of the west of the city have been laying siege since the weekend to the Zahra air intelligence base and coming under fire from the Ramoussa artillery base which they tried to assault to the south. Last night, artillery fire could be heard from a Rangers Base on the northern outskirts which is in a pocket of rebel-held territory and was being attacked for the first time.
Rebel spokesmen told The Daily Telegraph that they believed the Zahra and Ramoussa bases were crucial for the regime’s defences in the city, given its lack of manpower.
“They are very dangerous places,” Lt Abdullah Yassin said. “There is strong firing.” They say the use of air power by the regime is a sign of its weakness in numbers on the ground.
They believe that without regime bases from which to launch artillery fire a safe zone could be created in the north of the country near the border with Turkey, both for refugees and as a rear base for further rebel operations.
The government meanwhile announced that a senior air force commander, General Abdullah Mahmud al-Khalidi, was assassinated in Rukn al-Din, a district in north Damascus. The general, a father of four, was in charge of training, according to a statement by the Free Syrian Army claiming responsibility.
“In the context of operations against the criminal regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the Rukn al-Din Martyrs Battalion assassinated on Monday air force General Abdullah Mahmud al-Khalidi,” the statement said. It added that an air force intelligence official Sergeant Ahmed Abdul Haq, was also killed.