Syria rebels capture army base in eastern oil region

Thu Nov 22, 2012 11:58am EST
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By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian rebels captured an army base in an eastern oil province on Thursday, further weakening President Bashar al-Assad's control in the strategic region bordering Iraq.

The capture of the artillery base on the outskirts of Mayadeen, a town on the Euphrates river near some of Syria's main oilfields, followed rebel takeovers of military installations in the north and centre of the country this week.

Recent rebel momentum shows the increasing potency of the mainly Sunni Muslim fighters trying to topple Assad, who belongs to the Alawite minority linked to Shi'ite Islam. But insurgents have often had to retreat quickly after making advances to avoid strikes by the president's air force.

"The Mayadeen military base fell at 8.30 a.m. (0630 GMT)," Abu Laila, an official in the Military Revolutionary Council in the province, told Reuters. He said 44 rebel fighters had been killed in the operation to capture the base.

"The whole countryside, from the Iraqi border and along the Euphrates to the city of Deir al-Zor, is now under rebel control," he said.

Another opposition source in contact with rebels confirmed the base, 42 km (26 miles) south-east of Deir al-Zor, had fallen.

Video posted online showed rebels on motorcycles and trucks apparently inside the base waving victory signs as smoke rose from two buildings. Artillery pieces could be seen on the ground and a tank transporter stood abandoned.

Severe restrictions on non-state media make it impossible to verify opposition reports independently.   Continued...

A man walks past buildings damaged after Syrian Air Force fighter jets loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad fired missiles, in Erbeen, near Damascus November 20, 2012. REUTERS/Bassam al-Erbeeni/Shaam News Network/Handout