Year-long ISIS siege broken at air base

  • 11/11/2015

Syria's army has broken a more than year-long jihadist siege of a military air base in the country's north, scoring its first major breakthrough since the beginning of Russia's air campaign.

But the government advance came as at least 22 people were killed in one of the bloodiest mortar attacks yet on the regime's coastal bastion of Latakia.

Syrian troops, backed by pro-government militia, broke through the Islamic State group's siege of the Kweyris military airport in northern Aleppo province on Tuesday, a photographer working with AFP said.

A group of soldiers penetrated ISIS lines west of the airport and reached government troops inside the base, firing into the air in celebration.

State television also reported the breakthrough and broadcast live from outside the airport, declaring the advance a "victory".

It said a "large number of ISIS terrorists" were killed but provided no other details.

ISIS surrounded Kweyris in spring 2014, tightening a siege that rebel groups had begun in April the year before.

Regime loyalists and ISIS jihadists remained locked in fierce clashes to the airport's north, east, and west on Tuesday evening, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.

ISIS militants were still present in other areas around the airport and further east in Aleppo province, he told AFP.

The army's offensive to break the siege began at the end of September, with support from Russian warplanes, Iranian troops, fighters from Lebanese Shi'ite militia Hezbollah, and the pro-government National Defence Forces militia, Abdel Rahman said.

Tuesday's breakthrough came, however, only hours after one of the deadliest attacks in the conflict in the regime's seaside stronghold in Latakia.

At least 22 people were killed and 62 others wounded in mortar fire on eastern neighbourhoods of Latakia city, Syrian state television reported.

Latakia lies in the heartland of the minority Alawite sect to which Syria's ruling clan belongs and has been largely spared attacks during four and a half years of civil war.