Syria rebels say they seize army base on Damascus outskirts

AMMAN Mon Nov 19, 2012 3:35pm EST

Members of the Free Syrian Army ride on the back of a truck during clashes in the town of Atareb November 17, 2012. REUTERS/Abdalghne Karoof

Members of the Free Syrian Army ride on the back of a truck during clashes in the town of Atareb November 17, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Abdalghne Karoof

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AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian rebels said on Monday they had seized the headquarters of an army battalion near the southern gate of Damascus, the nearest military base to the capital reported to have fallen to opposition fighters.

Two units of the Islamist rebel groups Ansar al-Islam and Jund Allah Brigades said in a statement that they had taken the base of the Air Defense Battalion near Hajar al-Aswad after four days of fighting.

Video footage showed rebels walking through the site, past destroyed anti-aircraft guns, and one commander saying on a walkie-talkie: "We have completely seized the compound."

Independent verification of the report was not possible.

Opposition activists said the Syrian army had attacked southern districts of Damascus with shelling and rockets all day to try to stop the rebels seizing the base, in some of the heaviest bombardment on the capital in the 20-month revolt.

The base is on the edge of Hajar al-Aswad district, normally home to thousands of poor refugees from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights who were at the forefront of the movement against Assad's autocratic rule at the beginning of the revolt.

After months of slow progress, marked by poor organization and supply, rebels have taken over several army positions in outlying regions in the last week, including a Special Forces base near the northern city of Aleppo and a small military airport in the east, on the border with Iraq.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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