Syrian rebels attack airbase near Aleppo

Rebel forces battle for control of Taftanaz base a day before opposition conference begins in Qatar

Syrian rebels have attacked government forces guarding a key air base in the north of the country, activists have said, a day before an opposition conference begins in Qatar.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said opposition forces had launched a dawn raid and were battling for control of the Taftanaz base, south of Aleppo, close to the road linking the city with the capital, Damascus.

Videos posted online purportedly showed the attack, including a rebel vehicle firing rockets and smoke rising over buildings and what appears to be an airstrip.

The Syrian National Council (SNC), the main exile opposition group, is holding a congress in Doha starting on Sunday, before the launch on Thursday of a plan to bring together the external opposition and the revolutionary councils leading the insurrection inside Syria behind a common programme for a democratic transition.

The Syrian national initiative will create a council of about 50 members chaired by Riad Seif, a Sunni businessman who left Syria in June after being imprisoned by the regime.

The Doha initiative has been organised by the Qatari government and has drawn support from the US, Britain and France as a way of creating a single coherent Syrian opposition that could take part in peace talks with President Bashar al-Assad's regime or, if talks fail, provide a channel for greater military support to the rebels.

Russia, however, opposes the plan, arguing that it reneges on an earlier international agreement to pursue the formation of a new government by "mutual consent" of the parties to the conflict. The SNC leadership has also criticised the plan, in which its influence will be diluted, and it is not yet clear which of the divided rebel forces inside Syria will turn up on Thursday or whether they will agree on the common platform once they arrive in Doha.

Activists say more than 36,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in March 2011. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds