BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian branch of al Qaeda, the Nusra Front, said on Monday it had taken control of a base next to the country’s main north-south highway.
Until now, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had managed to repel numerous attacks on Wadi al-Deif, which has been surrounded by insurgents for two years.
“Wadi al-Deif base is completely liberated after Assad’s forces withdrew from all checkpoints hit by the Mujahideen fighters,” a Nusra Front Twitter account said.
The highway that runs past the base links Aleppo with Damascus.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Nusra Front was supported by another Sunni Muslim militant group, Jund al-Aqsa.
“All of Wadi al-Deif has been taken. Other areas near the base have also been captured. At least 31 government forces were killed and 12 fighters from Nusra and Jund al-Aqsa,” said Observatory head Rami Abdulrahman, who tracks the conflict through a network of sources on both sides.
Syrian government officials were not immediately available for comment.
Syria’s state news agency SANA said that the army had killed several “terrorists” in the areas surrounding the city of Maarat al-Nuaman, which is close to Wadi al-Deif.
Syria’s war started with a pro-democracy movement which grew into an armed uprising and has inflamed regional confrontations. Some 200,000 people have died in the conflict, according to United Nations estimates.
Reporting by Oliver Holmes, editing by John Stonestreet