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U.S./World

Syrian rebels seize military base

| Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012, 9:26 p.m.

Syrian rebels strengthened their hold on Thursday on an oil-rich province bordering Iraq, capturing a key military base considered one of the last bastions for President Bashar Assad's loyalists in the strategic region.

The reported fall of the Mayadeen base and its stockpiles of artillery caps a series of advances in Deir el-Zour, including the seizure of a military airport last week.

The province borders on western Iraq. Syria's rebels have strong support from the Sunni tribes in Iraq's west.

Many Iraqis with combat experience from their own war are believed to have crossed to fight in Syria.

Rebel fighters also said on Thursday that weapons seized when bases fall have been essential to their transformation from ragtag brigades into forces capable of challenging Assad's professional army.

Activist groups and a local fighter said the Mayadeen base was taken in the morning hours after a three-week siege. The fighter spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

Violence also was reported in opposition strongholds around the capital Damascus and in the northern city of Aleppo, where government aircraft damaged one of the rebels' key field hospitals.

Rebels who have battled government forces for months to control Aleppo, Syria's economic hub, scored a major victory several days ago when they overran the nearby base of the regime's 46th Regiment. The unit was a pillar of the government's Aleppo garrison, and its fall cuts a major supply line.

The regime, though, has used its air power to dent rebel gains. Government aircraft late Wednesday flattened a building next to Dar al-Shifa hospital, killing 15 people and badly damaging one of the last remaining sources of medical help for civilians in the city, activists said.

Once a private clinic run by a businessman reportedly allied with Assad, Dar al-Shifa became a field hospital run by volunteer doctors, nurses and aides united by their opposition to the regime.

They gave medical care to civilians and rebels.

The facility has taken at least six direct shell hits in recent months, mostly affecting its upper floors.

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