The Latest: Syria troops seize air base in rebel-held suburb

AP News
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Posted: Dec 14, 2015 9:49 AM
The Latest: Syria troops seize air base in rebel-held suburb

BEIRUT (AP) — The latest on the war in Syria. All times local.

4:45 p.m.

Hezbollah TV and Syrian activists say Syrian forces have seized control of a military air base in a suburb of Damascus following intense clashes and airstrikes.

The Marj al-Sultan air base lies in the mostly opposition-held eastern suburb of Damascus known as Eastern Ghouta. It has been held by rebels for three years.

The base's capture is a victory for Syrian troops and their allies from the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group who are fighting under Russian air cover in the area.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the civil war in Syria, reported the capture of Marj al-Sultan on Monday. They say fighting is still underway to gain control of the entire village.

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2:50 p.m.

A U.N. official visiting Syria says the humanitarian situation in the war-ravaged country is "a blot on our collective conscience."

U.N.'s humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien on Monday ended a three-day visit during which he travelled to the central Syrian city of Homs and met with officials in Damascus.

He says he was "deeply saddened" by mortar shells that hit Damascus the previous day and deadly government airstrikes on opposition-held suburbs of the capital. O'Brian also warned that "this is a tragic reminder of the urgency of finding a political solution and securing a nationwide ceasefire."

O'Brien says the situation in Homs, where a local truce was reached between rebels and government forces last week, remains "fragile."

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1:45 p.m.

The head of Russia's military general staff says rebels of the Free Syrian Army are receiving weapons — comments that come just days after a Kremlin spokesman denied that Russia was doing that.

Gen. Valery Gerasimov was quoted Monday by Russian news agencies as saying Russia is supporting the FSA with airstrikes and "help with weapons, ammunition and materiel." The statement appeared to suggest Russia was supplying the weapons, but the military could not be reached for clarification.

President Vladimir Putin said the rebels, who oppose Moscow's ally Syrian President Bashar Assad, were receiving weapons from Russia, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later said Putin meant Assad's army was getting weapons and the rebels were receiving only air support.

FSA's chief of staff has denied receiving Russian weapons.