Syrian army helicopters pin down rebel fighters in Taftanaz
TAFTANAZ - Syrian army helicopter gunships deployed from a nearby airbase on Saturday overflew the town of Taftanaz near the border with Turkey, pinning down rebel fighters.
Artillery fire hit at least two houses in the morning, a local rebel chief who gave his name as Abu Omar said, without reporting casualties, He said most of the small town in Idlib province of northwest Syria has been deserted for weeks.
Mi-17 and Mi-24 helicopters overflew Taftanaz throughout the day, as rebels in the small town took shelter inside houses, a correspondent said.
Taftanaz is located two kilometres (just over a mile) from a major military airbase from where helicopters take off round the clock to pound rebel-held towns in the area.
On Saturday, 15 army helicopters were poised and ready for take-off on the runways, the correspondent said from nearby rebel lines.
A group of rebels attacked the base on Wednesday but failed to take control of the site.
"The attack on the airport was a failure, it wasn't well prepared," said Abu Omar, who said one helicopter was destroyed while several others were only slightly damaged.
"The operation was carried out by the Ahrar al-Sham Brigade who arrived here at dawn," the rebel commander said. "There was no real preparation. I refused to take part."
Though large swathes of the countryside are in rebel hands, the regime still controls the city of Idlib itself.
On its outskirts lie two military airbases, Taftanaz and Abu Zohur which rebels attacked on Thursday. They claimed to have shot down a MiG fighter as it took office from Abu Zohur.
Taftanaz bears the scars of war, with burnt-out houses and facades ripped open by shells. Locals say the army carried out a bloody raid in April, killing 75 of the town's residents.