Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Rebels seize Syrian military base, take munitions

BASE OF THE 46TH REGIMENT, Syria — After a nearly two-month siege, Syrian rebels overwhelmed a large military base in the north of the country and made off with tanks, armored vehicles and truckloads of munitions that rebel leaders say will give them a boost in the fight against President Bashar Assad's army.

The capture of the base of the Syrian army's 46th Regiment near the northern city of Allepo is a sharp blow to the government's efforts to roll back rebels gains and shows a rising level of organization among opposition forces.

More important than the base's fall, however, are the weapons the rebels found inside.

At a rebel base where much of the haul was taken after the weekend victory, rebel fighters unloaded half a dozen large trucks piled with green boxes full of mortar shells, artillery shells, rockets and rifles. Parked nearby were five tanks, two armored vehicles, two rocket launchers and two heavy-caliber cannons.

"There has never been a battle before with this much booty," said Gen. Ahmad al-Faj of the rebels' Joint Command, a grouping of rebel brigades that was involved in the siege. Speaking on Monday at the rebel base, set up in a former customs office at Syria's Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, he said the haul would be distributed among the brigades.

For months, Syria's rebels have gradually been destroying government checkpoints and taking over towns in the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo along the Turkish border.

Rebel fighters say that weapons seized in such battles have been essential to their transformation from ragtag brigades into forces capable of challenging Assad's professional army. Cross-border arms smuggling from Turkey and Iraq has also played a role.

NEW RECOGNITION: A newly formed Syrian opposition coalition received a boost Tuesday when Britain officially recognized it as the sole representative of the Syrian people. The National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces was formed in the gulf nation of Qatar on Oct. 11 under pressure from the United States for a stronger, more united opposition body to serve as a counterweight to more extremist forces.

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