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Middle East News
Syrian Rebels Capture Regime Bases
From the Wall Street Journal of Tue, 16 Dec 2014 04:24:35 EST

BEIRUT—An al Qaeda-linked rebel group in Syria said it captured two military bases in the northwest after three years of failed attempts to seize the strategic sites.

The Nusra Front and another Islamist rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, claimed on Twitter Monday that they had captured the Deif Valley and Hamidiyeh bases, which had been under regime control.

A Syrian military official told state television the army was involved in clashes in Hamidiyeh area in Idlib province. Local activists said at least 15 rebel fighters and dozens regime forces had been killed in four days of fighting around the bases.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based group that monitors the conflict, said 31 regime soldiers had been killed and rebels seized two tanks. It also said 12 rebel fighters were killed on Sunday and Monday.

Rebels largely cleared Idlib province of government forces in early 2012, but the regime had managed to hold on to the two bases. There were being used to store arms and fuel in support of operations elsewhere in the province at the time they were captured, according to residents and rebels in the area.

In other gains for Nusra Front recently, the group drove out moderate rebels from Idlib’s mountainous Zawiya area last month, seizing weapons, ammunition and armored vehicles from U.S.-backed groups including the Hazzam Movement and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front.

In a video posted on YouTube Monday by an official Ahrar al-Sham channel, a fighter who was identified as the leader of Deif Valley and Hamidiyeh military operations said rebel groups had been trying to seize the valley from the Syrian regime for three years.

“The importance of Deif Valley is that it is a considered the core of the north,” he said. “It is also a military link that ties the north with the south, and the east with the western coast.” He called the valley the “jewel of the north,” an allusion to its strategic importance.

Both Ahrar al-Sham and Nusra Front boasted about the conquest by posting pictures and videos of the battles on social media platforms. One of them claimed they used a U.S.-made TOW antitank missile. In early November, a Nusra Front activist said the group had obtained the TOW missiles from a Western-backed branch of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front.

Abdel al-Razzak, a resident of Idlib, said he was pleased with Nusra’s victory and called the capture of the Deif Valley base a moment of celebration for the war-weary residents of neighboring towns.

“We’ve had so many martyrs, many wounded and children becoming orphans,” he said, referring to the long-running battles for the base since the Syrian crisis began in 2011.

“We don’t care who liberates us. We just want to get rid of (Syrian President Bashar) Assad any way we can and go back to the way we once were,” he said.

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