Syria Live Coverage: Insurgents Take Another Airbase — Next, a Major City?

February 13, 2013 at 5:50 | Scott Lucas in EA Live, EA Middle East and Turkey

Insurgents take a Republican Guard headquarters in Adra, east of Damascus

1111 GMT: Opposition Official Inside Syria. Footage of the visit of George Sabra, the deputy head of the opposition National Coalition and president of the Syrian National Council, to the insurgent-held town of Azaz near the Turkish border:

1105 GMT: Negotiations. The Minister for National Reconciliation, Ali Haidar, has backed away from his indication — given to a British journalist earlier this week — that he would meet officials of the opposition National Coalition in a foreign country: “The national dialogue will be held, in its second stage, exclusively in Syria because it is a matter of national dignity.”

Haidar said on State TV on Tuesday, “There is no initiative at the table of the Syrian government or the ministerial team tasked with implementing the preparatory stage for dialogue… We only heard ideas via media outlets… The government is not a media office to answer the others’ inquiries through media.”

Haidar continued with a dismissal of the offer of National Coalition head al-Khatib of discussions if the Assad regime met conditions such as the release of political prisoners: “In principle, I consider that any Syrian figure, whether inside or outside Syria, who wants national dialogue and political solution to the crisis as a person on the right path, but the details needs long examination.”

0945 GMT: Diplomatic Relations. Qatar has handed the Syrian Embassy in Doha to the opposition National Coalition.

“Qatar has decided to hand over the Syrian embassy building in Doha to Mr Nizar al-Haraki after his appointment as ambassador…for the National Coalition,” a Coalition statement said. “The flag of the revolution will be raised above the building.”

0609 GMT: Casualties. The Local Coordination Committees claim 136 people were killed on Tuesday, including 11 children and five women. Forty-seven of the deaths were in Damascus and its suburbs, 32 in Aleppo Province, and 20 in Homs Province.

0555 GMT: Insurgent Advance. The series of important insurgent victories continued on Tuesday. A day after Islamist-led forces captured the country’s largest dam, opposition fighters took the Jirah military airport east of Aleppo and and attacked another base that guards the city’s international airport. Both events pointed to a wider development, noted by EA’s James Miller:

Unlike last year’s offensives, the primary weapons are tanks, armored vehicles, 4×4 vehicles equipped with various armaments, howitzers, artillery pieces, and other heavy weaponry. While the insurgents have been capturing these weapons all along, it has not been possible to bring them into the open and use them this heavily. This is a sign that not only are Assad’s armored vehicles thinning, but his airforce is far less formidable than it once was.

So do the insurgents now have the strength to move on a major city? We noted on Tuesday morning that an Islamist-led force had surrounded the eastern city of Deir Ez Zor on all sides. There was no significant assault yesterday, but Miller offered this summary to me last night:

Look at the firepower and coordination of the insurgents as they pressure these bases. Mortar attacks, sniper attacks, then the 4×4’s attack and the infantry overruns the position. They’re really good at this now.

I think Deir ez Zor and Idlib are getting close to a battle.