Syrian rebels in control of key air base

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Islamic militants seeking to topple President Bashar Assad have taken full control of a strategic air base in a significant blow to Syrian government forces.

The rebels seized helicopters, tanks and multiple rocket launchers, activists said.

The Taftanaz air base in Idlib province is considered the biggest field in the country’s north for helicopters used to bomb rebel-held areas and deliver supplies to government troops.

Rebels from al-Qaida affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamic groups have been fighting for weeks for control of the sprawling facility and broke into it on Wednesday evening. Activists said the rebels seized control of buildings, ammunition and military equipment after ferocious fighting.

“As of now, the rebels are in full control of the air base,” said Idlib-based activist Mohammad Kanaan. The rebels had been attacking Taftanaz for months.

While its fall will embarrass the regime and hit helicopter operations, it will do little to stop air strikes by government jets, many of which come from bases farther south.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on activists on the ground, said government warplanes bombed the air base after the rebel takeover.