Middle East

Syria rebels seize last major Idlib army base - reports

Rebel fighters in Mastouma village May 19, 2015 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The base's capture tightens the rebels' control over the province

Syrian rebels have reportedly seized the last major army base in north-western Idlib province, in a fresh setback for President Bashar al-Assad.

State forces withdrew from the Mastouma base after days of fighting, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The assault on Idlib is run by a coalition of Islamist rebels, including the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

Meanwhile Islamic State (IS) militants are again reported to be threatening the town of Palmyra.

Residents reported that IS militants had moved into the town's northern quarters, after being driven out late last week.

Syrian state media implicitly acknowledged the loss of the Mastouma base, saying its forces had heavily pounded "terrorist formations" which had infiltrated the camp.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The assault has been launched by a coalition of Islamist fighters
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is under pressure on several fronts

Government forces have headed to Ariha, one of the few towns they still hold in the province, according the British-based Observatory.

The capture tightens rebel control on Idlib. The grouping seized the provincial capital in March.

It also brings them closer to the coastal province of Latakia, a stronghold of President Assad.

The rebels are thought to have been aided by a new alliance between Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, all of whom want Mr Assad ousted.

His forces are also under pressure in the south, having lost the main crossing-point on the Jordanian border at Nassib.

But he received support on Tuesday from key ally Iran.

After visiting Damascus, Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pledged to "continue to support Syria by all means", Iranian state media reported.

Related Topics