Activists: Syrian rebels capture northern air base

BEIRUT – Syrian rebels captured a major air base in the north of the country on Tuesday after months of fighting, depriving ’s forces of one of their main posts near the border with Turkey, activists said.

The Britain-based Syrian for Human Rights said Mannagh helicopter base fell nearly 24 hours after rebels, led by al-Qaida-linked militants, launched an all-out offensive against it. The Aleppo Media Center said rebels finally captured it before dawn.

Mannagh, in the north of Aleppo province, is deep inside territory dominated by the . Rebels have been trying since last year to capture it, but faced strong resistance from defenders.

Rebels seized part of it in June, and since then its fall has been widely expected. The air base is the largest to fall in rebel hands since opposition forces captured the Taftanaz base in the of Idlib in January.

The Observatory said the final assault on Mannagh was led by members of the al-Qaida-linked and the Levant. It began early Monday when a Saudi blew his vehicle up outside the command centre of the sprawling compound.

It said the rebels then began advancing, capturing vehicles and buildings inside the base. It did not say how many were killed but said at least 10 rebels, including , died in the fighting.

The Observatory added that rebels took prisoner a number of government troops.

The fall of Mannagh followed the rebel capture of four villages in the of Assad’s minority Alawite on the country’s Mediterranean coast. Rebel victories have otherwise been comparatively rare in recent months, and Assad’s forces have been on the offensive in the centre of the country.

More than 100,000 people have been killed since ’s conflict started in March 2011 as largely peaceful protests against Assad’s rule. After opposition supporters took up arms to fight a brutal government crackdown on dissent, it turned into an armed uprising and later escalated into a civil war.

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