The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and an Idlib-based activist who goes by the name of Mohammed al-Sayid said members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front and other rebel factions captured the Wadi Deif base on Monday morning.
A Twitter account run by the Al-Nusra Front in Idlib province said fighters are now removing mines from the area after the “Wadi Deif camp was liberated.”
The capture of Wadi Deif is a blow to the Syrian government that has managed to hold the besieged post for more than two years and repelled repeated attacks by opposition fighters. Rebels and the Al-Nusra Front control much of the countryside of Idlib province while government forces dominate the provincial capital city—also called Idlib.
The capture came a day after rebels and Al-Nusra fighters took over seven government checkpoints around Wadi Deif and the nearby base of Hamidiyeh. The Wadi Deif and Hamidiyeh 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“Most of the troops have withdrawn to Hamidiyeh,” said Idlib-based activist Asad Kanjo, adding that a major battle appears to be looming over control of that base. He said the government still holds the town of Ariha in Idlib as well as the Qarmid base near the provincial capital.
Al-Nusra has become one of the most powerful factions in Idlib province after it defeated last month the moderate Syria Revolutionaries Front headed by Jamal Maarouf, who has since fled the area.
The Observatory said that at least 31 government soldiers and 12 opposition fighters have been killed in the clashes since Sunday.
The latest round of fighting came as European Union foreign ministers met in Brussels Monday to discuss ways to help implement a UN plan for a localized cease-fire in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.
The foreign ministers met informally Sunday with the UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura. The UN has been trying to bring about a strategic de-escalation of violence in Syria to permit the delivery of humanitarian aid and set the stage for peace talks.