BEIRUT - Syrian rebels took control of most of a strategic army base in northern Syria after a fierce firefight with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces on Wednesday, a monitoring group said, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on the Security Council to overcome its paralysis and take “meaningful” action to stop the bloodshed.

“It is essential for the Security Council to overcome the deadlock and find the unity that will make meaningful action possible,” he said at the Organisation of American States here.

Ban said that while the 15-member Council remains paralyzed and Syria politically polarized, the deaths and human rights violations are mounting. “It’s long past time we resolved this conflict,” he said, adding that the international community must keep pushing for a political solution despite the difficulties.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said Tuesday that almost 70,000 people have died in the conflict, which is now nearly two years old.

The military complex, known as Base 80, is tasked with securing the nearby Aleppo international airport as well as the Nayrab military airport.

Rebels launched a coordinated assault on both airports on Tuesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which added that most of Base 80 “has come under insurgent control”. Dozens of fighters and troops have been killed in the fighting, the Britain-based Observatory said.

In Aleppo city itself, meanwhile, electricity or water supplies were down on Wednesday for a fourth day in a row, said the anti-regime Aleppo Media Centre, warning of a “humanitarian disaster” in what was once Syria’s commercial hub.

 Commenting on the rebels’ advance in Aleppo province, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the army may be giving up on parts of northern Syria in order to secure the centre.

Despite the advances, regime warplanes carried out several air raids on rebel areas in Aleppo province on Wednesday while army tanks shelled the east Damascus district of Jobar, the Observatory said.

At least eight civilians were killed in Jobar, it said. Insurgents have secured enclaves in the eastern and southern suburbs of Damascus, and the army is trying hard to push them out, the watchdog said.

On the eastern and western edges of the central city of Homs, rebels clashed with troops on two main highways, a rebel commander said.

At least 121 people were killed in violence across Syria on Wednesday, half of them civilians, the Observatory said.

Former foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said Wednesday he has a neutral stance on Syria’s 23-month conflict, as he broke his silence for the first time since leaving the country.

 “I left Syria because the polarisation in the country has reached a deadly and destructive stage... I left a battlefield, not a normal country, and I apologise to those who trusted my credibility and for leaving without prior notice,” he said.

Makdissi, once one of the most recognisable faces of President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime who disappeared from public view in December, made the remarks in an emailed statement.

Qatar, meanwhile, handed the Syrian embassy building in Doha to the National Coalition, Syria’s main opposition group, a statement said on Wednesday.

“Qatar has decided to hand over the Syrian embassy building in Doha to Mr Nizar al-Haraki after his appointment as ambassador to Doha for the National Coalition,” the Coalition statement said.

“Qatar has acted faster than the Friends of Syria coalition,” the opposition statement said, in reference to a string of Western and Arab states, along with Turkey, which support the revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“The flag of the revolution will be raised above the building,” the Syrian National Coalition added.

Speaking to AFP by phone, Haraki said the Qatari authorities had accepted his appointment.

“A formal decision has been made to accept my appointment as ambassador,” he said. “I will start work along with two other diplomats,” said Haraki.