An umbrella group of opposition fighters have seized the largest army base in the southern province of Deraa – the birthplace of Syria’s four-year uprising – after 24 hours of fighting, a rebel spokesman and monitoring group have said.
Essam al-Rayes, a spokesman for the Southern Front rebel alliance operating in the province, told the AFP news agency on Tuesday that the “fully liberated” base “was one of the main lines of defence for regime forces”.
“It was a nightmare, because they used it to shell all the areas to the east of the province,” he added.
He said at least 2,000 rebel forces overran the base, which lies near a major highway running from Damascus to Syria’s southern border with Jordan, in a “short and quick” assault.
Diaa al-Hariri, a spokesman for Faylaq al-Awwal, one of the armed groups in the Southern Front coalition, also confirmed the significance of the base.
“The base is also an important infantry base, from which the regime attacked towns and villages in the south,” he said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group that relies on a network of activists on the ground, reported that opposition groups had taken the 52nd Brigade base after clashes and intense shelling that left 14 rebel fighters and 20 government forces dead.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said regime troops withdrew to the nearby village of al-Dara.
Rebel groups control a majority of Daraa province and its capital, according to Abdel Rahman.
Syria’s official news agency SANA did not mention the capture of the base. But earlier, citing a military source, it said the air force had struck the area, killing at least 40 “terrorists”.
String of regime losses
Regime forces have suffered several defeats over the last three months at the hands of opposition fighters.
One of the most recent major losses was Idlib province, which rebels claimed full control over since Saturday.
The Observatory also said on Tuesday that it has documented the deaths of 230,000 people since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011.
The Observatory said the dead include 69,494 civilians, among them 11,493 children. The conflict has also claimed the lives of 49,106 troops, 32,533 pro-government fighters and 38,592 rebels, it said.
Abdurrahman said the real death toll could be above 300,000, since there are tens of thousands of people who are missing or were buried without being counted.
Syria’s conflict began with peaceful Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations demanding political reform, but eventually escalated into a civil war after the government responded with a violent crackdown on dissent.
Today the country is split among forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, opposition factions, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group. Al Jazeera