Jihadis have captured a Syrian army base in the north-western province of Idlib after two days of intense fighting that killed dozens of gunmen, activists have said.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and an Idlib-based activist named Mohammed al-Sayid said members of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and other rebel factions captured the Wadi Deif camp on Monday morning.
A Twitter account run by the Nusra Front in Idlib province said fighters were removing mines from the area after the camp was “liberated”.
The capture of Wadi Deif is a blow to the Syrian government, which has held the besieged post for more than two years despite repeated attacks by opposition fighters. Rebels and the Nusra Front control much of the province while government forces dominate the region’s capital city, also called Idlib.
The attack came a day after rebels and Nusra Front fighters took over seven government checkpoints around Wadi Deif and the nearby base of Hamidiyeh. The bases outside the town of Maaret al-Numan have long been prized targets for the rebels, who have launched multiple sieges since 2012.
“Most of the troops have withdrawn to Hamidiyeh,” said Idlib-based activist Asad Kanjo, adding that a battle appears to be looming over control of that base. He said the government retained control of Ariha town in Idlib as well as the Qarmid base, near the provincial capital.
The Nusra Front has become one of the most powerful factions in the province. Last month it defeated the moderate Syria Revolutionaries Front, led by Jamal Maarouf, who has since fled.
The Observatory said at least 31 government soldiers and 12 opposition fighters have been killed in the clashes since Sunday.
The latest round of fighting came as EU foreign ministers met in Brussels on Monday to discuss ways to help implement a UN plan for a ceasefire in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.
The officials met informally on Sunday with the UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura. The UN has been trying to bring about a strategic reduction of violence in the country to permit the delivery of humanitarian aid and set the stage for peace talks.