Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Syrian government forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad suffered another major setback on Tuesday after rebel groups captured a strategic army base in the country’s south. This follows other losses for government forces in recent weeks as rebels also made gains in the country’s northern region.
“The 52nd Brigade base was fully liberated from the regime army,” Maj. Essam Al-Rayes, a spokesman for the Southern Alliance, the coalition of rebels which captured the base, told the AFP news agency. He added that some 2,000 rebels forces had taken the base in a “short and quick” assault launched on Tuesday morning which had taken less than 24 hours. The Southern Alliance is led by the main opposition fighting force, the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
The base, which is used by the Syrian army’s 52nd Brigade, is located near the southern city of Dera’a, which lies around 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of the Jordanian border.
Rami Abdulrahman, the head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights—which monitors the Syrian conflict via a network of observers on the ground—said 14 rebels and 20 government forces had been killed during the clashes, with the remaining regime forces withdrawing to the village of Al-Dara nearby.
Abdulrahman added that following the capture of the base, rebel groups now control most of Dera’a province and the city of Dera’a, the provincial capital.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on Tuesday, Abu Ahmed Al-Asimi, a senior commander in the FSA, said the 52nd Brigade was the second-largest Syrian army unit in the country’s south after the 61st Brigade, which was defeated by rebels six months ago.
“The liberation of the base was carried out by the [Southern Alliance’s] 1st Army Unit, in coordination with its 1st Legion which comprises some 40 individual units and comprise 35,000 fighters,” Asimi said.
“The assault itself was carried out by around 1,200 fighters following attacks using medium and heavy weapons which included 80 rockets fired, and this was enough [to capture the base],” he added.
In addition to the FSA, the Southern Alliance also includes fighters from jihadist groups, including Ahrar Al-Sham. Asimi added however that the extremist group the Al-Nusra Front did not participate in the assault due to its meager presence in the country’s southern region.
This comes as the Syrian army has suffered serious setbacks in recent weeks, most notably late last week when rebels cut off the army’s last supply lines between the northwestern city of Latakia and Syria’s largest city Aleppo, in what was described as the biggest loss suffered by Assad’s forces since 2011.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory said on Tuesday the number of people killed in Syria since the conflict began in 2011 had now reached more than 230,000, including 11,500 children.