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Syrian rebels claim northern air base capture

Fighters in Syria say they have taken control of a key military base in the northern province of Idlib following weeks of fighting over the Taftanaz site. Key talks on the conflict have also begun in Geneva.

Opposition groups said on Friday that rebel fighters had taken control of northern Syria's Taftanaz air base, as special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Geneva for talks with representatives from the US and Russia.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which supports the opposition, announced that President Bashar Assad's military had started bombing the base after losing control of it.

"Taftanaz base is being bombarded by Syrian war planes, which are trying to destroy the airport after it was seized by fighters," the Observatory announced.

The Taftanaz air base, used primarily as a launching point for Syrian helicopters, is located a little over 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) northeast of the provincial capital, Idlib.

Brahimi seeks common ground

The UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, arrived in Geneva on Friday for talks with US and Russian officials.

Brahimi gathered at the UN's European headquarters for closed-door discussions with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. The two countries are broadly perceived to support opposite sides in the Syrian conflict.

None of the assembled diplomats made any comments ahead of the talks.

Brahimi first met with the US and Russian politicians separately, with the three subsequently convening as a group.

A UN-sponsored study published on January 2 estimated the total death toll from almost two years of war in Syria at 60,000 people.

msh/dr (AP, dpa, Reuters)