Syria Live Coverage: Insurgents Take a Military Airport in the North

Sunday, November 18, 2012  Scott Lucas in EA Middle East and Turkey / Enduring America

0756 GMT: Syria. The Israeli army said Saturday that it fired artillery into Syria in response to gunfire at its troops in the Israeli-controlled Golan Height. “There was small arms fire (at Israeli forces), there was a response and from what I hear over Arab media it appears Syrian soldiers were killed,” Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai, Israel’s chief military spokesman, told Army Radio.

Mordechai said Israel was trying not to be pulled into the Syrian conflict: “Our trigger finger is very stiff, not light. Under no circumstances do we accept any shooting on the State of Israel’s territory, but nor do we intend to heat up the area.”

0750 GMT: Turkey. Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), has called for an end to a hunger strike by more than 700 Kurdish prisoners.

The hunger strike is in its 68th day and, although detainees are taking water and vitamins, doctors have said prisoners could soon die.Today I went to see my brother Abdullah Ocalan face-to-face in Imrali prison,” Ocalan’s brother Mehmet said in a statement. “He wants me to share immediately with the public his call about the hunger strikes ….This action has achieved its goal. Without any hesitation, they should end the hunger strike.”

Ocalan has been imprisoned on the small island of Imrali in the Marmara Sea since his capture in 1999.

The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), several of whose members joined the hunger strike, said its deputies in the city of Diyarbakir — the regional center of the heavily Kurdish southeast — would communicate Ocalan’s call to prisoners there.

“We hope this call will pave the way for the next process, which is to end (Ocalan’s) isolation….The Kurdish problem should be resolved by dialogue and deliberation,” BDP leader Selahattin Demirtas told reporters.

0748 GMT: Iraq Clashes between Iraqi forces and Kurdish troops along the internal border on Friday left one person dead. In a statement yesterday, Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani said:

    The Kurdish region is fully prepared to confront any undesirable occurrence, with the goal of defending our territory and our citizens.

    I have asked the Ministry of Peshmerga to take all necessary measures.

Reuters notes that there have been escalating tensions between the Iraqi central government and the autonomous Kurdish region since US forces left in December. This has been further exacerbated “by the formation of a new command centre for Iraqi forces to operate in” in an area both sides claim jurisdiction over.

0648 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees claim 136 people were killed by security forces on Saturday, including 63 in Damascus and its suburbs, 30 in Aleppo Province, and 21 in Deir Ez Zor Province.

The activists said 153 locations were shelled, and there were 82 clashes between the Free Syrian Army and regime forces.

0640 GMT: Syria. After days of fighting and rumours, insurgents confirmed on Saturday that they have taken Hamdan airport in northeast Syria, seizing mortars, armoured vehicles, and ammunition.

The airport only has two short runways and some far-from-imposing buildings; however, it was converted during the conflict to a base for helicopters and military tanks. The capture is also an important sign of the continuing advance of the Free Syria Army across the north: opposition fighters had taken the nearby city of Al Bukamal earlier in the week.

Regime forces now only hold one air base in Deir Ez Zor Province, running along the border with Iraq: the main military airport in Deir Ez Zor city. About 12 insurgents were killed near Al Bukamal as regime units counter-attacked after the fall of the airport.