Syrian rebels make more gains in north

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BEIRUT -- Syrian rebels fully captured a northern town near the Turkish border on Tuesday after weeks of heavy fighting and attacked a regime air base in a neighboring province, activists said.

The air base is in Aleppo province, where opposition fighters have already captured three other large military bases in recent months. Rebels have also laid siege to the international airport in the city of Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital, and launched an offensive on the police academy near the city.

With steady rebel gains across the north, President Bashar Assad's regime is having increasing difficulty sending supplies by land to Aleppo province, especially after rebels cut a major thoroughfare from Damascus. It is just another sign that the opposition is consolidating its grip across large swathes of territory in northern Syria near the Turkish border.

In his traditional Christmas address, Pope Benedict XVI decried the slaughter of the "defenseless" in Syria, where anti-regime activists estimate more than 40,000 have died in fighting since the uprising against Assad's rule began in March 2011.

In another blow to the regime, activists said that Mohammed Adnan Arabo, a member of Syria's parliament, has left the country and joined the opposition. Ahmad Ramadan, an executive council member of the opposition Syrian National Council group, and other activists said Arabo arrived in Turkey Tuesday.

Ramadan said the regime's hold on power is deteriorating and rebels are besieging military bases for weeks until they either take over or negotiate with local army commanders to surrender. He added that some regime forces are being diverted to the capital to fight there.

"The regime cannot protect its bases and also cannot send forces to support troops under siege," Ramadan said. -- AP

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