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Syria rebels, troops clash at 3 air bases

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels seeking to topple President Bashar Assad fought intense battles with his troops on Sunday to try to seize control of three military air bases in the country’s north and curtail the regime’s use of its punishing air power, activists said.

Rebels, who have been trying to capture the air fields for months, broke into the sprawling Abu Zuhour air base in northwestern Idlib province and Kweiras base in the Aleppo province on Saturday. Fighting raged inside the two facilities Sunday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least seven fighters were killed in the fighting in Abu Zuhour, in addition to an unknown number of soldiers. The group, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said the Syrian air force conducted an airstrike on Abu Zuhour village during the fighting to ease pressure on government troops inside the base.

Rebels control much of Idlib and Aleppo provinces, which border Turkey, although government troops still hold some areas including the provincial capital of Idlib province and parts of the city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest urban center.

The Aleppo Media Center said rebels also seized 60 percent of the Mannagh helicopter base near the border with Turkey. Rebels from the Islamist al-Burraq Brigades announced that fighters from multiple factions in northern Aleppo have launched a large-scale offensive to seize full control of the facility.

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