A coalition of Islamist rebels seized an army base in northwestern Syria at dawn Monday after a suicide bomber from the Nusra Front drove a truck packed with explosives into the compound and blew it up.
It marked the third defeat in a month for Assad’s forces in the northwest, following the seizure of the towns of Jisr al-Shughur and Idlib, the provincial capital.
The army had been using the Qarmid camp to shell rebel-held towns and villages in the strategic agricultural region bordering Turkey. Controlling it should help the rebels tighten their siege on the major Mastouma army base nearby.
Syrian state media said the army killed scores of Nusra fighters and dozens of suicide bombers from Russia’s Chechnya region in fighting near the base, but did not say the compound had fallen to the militants.
“A truck with two tons of explosives penetrated one of the entrances of the camp that made it easier to take over the camp,” Sheikh Husam Abu Bakr, a rebel commander from Ahrar al-Sham movement said via Skype.
The coalition, which calls itself the Army of Conquest, ranges from Free Syrian Army-aligned militias to the conservative Ahrar al-Sham and the Al-Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information from all sides of the conflict, said two suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the camp.
“This was one of the major bases of the regime in Idlib and had lot of weapons,” Observatory head Rami Abdel-Rahman said, adding at least seven tanks, large ammunition caches and scores of rocket launchers were seized by the rebels.
Syria has recently stepped up its accusations that Turkey is aiding the rebels and allowing thousands of foreign jihadi fighters into the country, which made it possible for them to seize the city of Idlib last month.
That was the second provincial city after ISIS-controlled Raqqa to fall to anti-Assad rebels since the start of the four-year conflict. The coalition Saturday captured the town of Jisr al-Shughur.
The Observatory said 73 people, many of them women and children, were killed in retaliatory raids on civilian homes and markets in rebel-held towns and villages in the last 24 hours.
At least 53 civilians were killed in air force bombing in the town of Darkoush northwest of Idlib when the regime bombed a busy market place and a center where displaced refugee were taking cover, it said.
Separately, fierce clashes pitting ISIS militants against regime forces have erupted on the outskirts of the northeastern town of Hassakeh, the Observatory said. Anti-regime activists said that ISIS had killed at least six regime troops and captured 33 National Defense paramilitaries.
The Syriac Military Council said the attackers were at the southern, regime-controlled part of Hassakeh.
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