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Syrian opposition alleges attack on air force base

November 16, 2011 | 10:19 am

Syria's empty chair at a meeting of Arab nations in Morocco on Wednesday
REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Opposition activists said Wednesday that armed defectors mounted a daring attack on a Syrian military intelligence headquarters on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.

There was no comment from the Syrian government and no independent confirmation of the reported attack on the air force intelligence facility in Harasta. If true, the reported strike could represent a new escalation in an almost eight-month uprising against the government of President Bashar Assad. Damascus has been relatively quiet during the revolt.

Meantime, Arab foreign ministers were meeting Wednesday in Rabat, Morocco, to discuss possible sanctions against Syria.

Arab diplomats gave Damascus until Wednesday to enact a league-brokered peace plan or face suspension and other possible penalties. The peace plan includes a cease-fire, a release of prisoners and a dialogue between the government and the opposition. Syria said it would not send a representative to the meeting.

Regarding the reported attack, an opposition spokesman in Beirut, Omar Idlibi, said defectors armed with rocket-propelled grenades struck an Air Force administration building about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday. Eyewitnesses and other sources on the ground confirmed the attack, which lasted more than an hour, said Idlibi of the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition umbrella group. There was no word on casualties.

An official with a defectors' organization, the Free Syrian Army, said a group of 10 to 15 rebels penetrated the base and burned the building. The attackers had defected only a few hours before the attack, said the official, who operates along the Lebanese-Syrian border and asked not to be named for security reasons.

Syria has restricted access to journalists, making it almost impossible to verify assertions of attacks and casualties. In the past, both the government and the opposition have provided information that later proved to be inaccurate.

The major Syrian opposition groups have said publicly that they are committed to nonviolence. But some activists, including defectors, have taken up arms against Syrian security forces.

The Syrian government says armed “terrorists” have killed more than 1,000 security officers. The United Nations says more than 3,500 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in a “brutal” government crackdown on dissent.

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-- Alexandra Sandels and Patrick J. McDonnell

Photo: Syria's empty chair at a meeting of Arab nations in Rabat, Morocco on Wednesday. Credit: Abdelhak Senna / AFP/Getty Images

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