BEIRUT - Rebels seized an air defence facility and attacked a military airport in eastern Syria on Saturday, a monitoring group said, hitting back at an air force which President Bashar al-Assad is increasingly relying on to crush his opponents.
The attacks in eastern oil-producing Deir al-Zor province follow rebel strikes against military airports in the Aleppo and Idlib areas, close to the border with Turkey.
Assad, battling a 17-month-old uprising in which 20,000 people have been killed, has lost control of rural areas in northern, eastern and southern regions and has resorted to helicopter gunships and fighter jets to subdue his foes.
The aerial bombardment has driven fresh waves of refugees into neighbouring countries, reviving Turkish calls for "safe zones" to be set up on Syrian territory - appeals ignored by a divided United Nations Security Council and by Western powers reluctant to commit the military forces needed to secure such zones.
Rebels in Deir al-Zor overran an air defence building, taking at least 16 captives and seizing an unknown number of anti-aircraft rockets, said Rami Abdulrahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Activist video posted on the internet showed the officers and soldiers captured by rebel fighters as well as an arsenal of rocket-propelled grenades and ammunition seized in the raid.
Abdulrahman said rebels also attacked the Hamdan military airbase at Albu Kamal, close to Syria's eastern border with Iraq, but did not succeed in breaking into it.
The attacks come three days after rebels said they had damaged several helicopters at the Taftanaz air base in Idlib province. The insurgents also said they have shot down a fighter jet and a helicopter last week.