KWEYRIS, Syria: Syria’s army broke a more than year-long jihadist siege of a military air base in the country’s north Tuesday, scoring its first major breakthrough since Russia’s air campaign began.
Troops, backed by pro-government militia, broke through the Islamic State (IS) group’s siege of the Kweyris military airport in northern Aleppo province, a photographer working with AFP said.
A group of soldiers penetrated IS lines west of the airport and reached government troops inside the base, firing into the air in celebration.
Experts said the base could be used by Russian planes in their air war against rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, aiding their efforts to re-take Syria’s second city of Aleppo.
Russia launched air strikes in Syria in support of Assad at the end of September, but the regime has still struggled to advance against opposition forces and securing Kweyris would mark their first major victory in the Aleppo area.
But the advance came as at least 22 people were killed in one of the bloodiest mortar attacks on the regime’s coastal bastion of Latakia in the four-year conflict.
As the bloodshed continued, the United Nation’s peace envoy for Syria urged world powers to build on the “momentum” of new international talks to end the conflict, which has killed more than 250,000 people.
Some 20 countries and international bodies will meet in Vienna Saturday to push forward a peace plan for Syria that would include a ceasefire between Assad’s regime and some opposition groups.
The meetings must “bring some deliverables to the Syrian people — one of them should be reduction of violence,” Staffan de Mistura told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council.
“My job is to make sure that big countries like the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and Iran come around the table and come up with a political process.”
Syria’s state television reported the Kweyris breakthrough against IS, broadcasting live from outside the airport and saying a “large number of IS terrorists” were killed, without providing details.
Loyalists and IS jihadists remained locked in fierce clashes to the airport’s north, east, and west Tuesday evening, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
IS surrounded Kweyris in spring 2014, tightening a siege that rebel groups began in April 2013.