Three days after their capture of Base 46, a sprawling army base in northern Syria, rebels dragged out the last corpses from ruined buildings Wednesday and gathered the booty of arms and ammunition.
Rebel fighters seized the hilltop base in the embattled province of Aleppo after weeks of intense fighting with regime forces.
Defected General Mohammed Ahmed al-Faj, who commanded the assault, hailed Sunday’s capture of Base 46 as “one of our biggest victories since the start of the revolution” against President Bashar al-Assad.
“Nearly 300 regime troops were killed in the fighting,” he told AFP. “Some 60 others were taken prisoner, and they will be tried soon. Many are guilty of war crimes.”
The rebels seized around 15 tanks and Soviet-era armoured vehicles, artillery cannons, 120 mm mortars and several rocket launchers which they moved to their rear bases near the Turkish border, an AFP journalist said.
Base 46 was one of the army’s last remaining bases in the area bordering Turkey, which supports the revolt against Assad. It is located some 12 kilometres (eight miles) west of Aleppo, and near the rebel-held town of Atarib.
All the buildings that make up the sprawling base have been gutted by shelling or machine-gun fire, including dormitories, a garage, an arms depot and the officers’ mess.
Official documents, military uniforms and boxes of ammunition are scattered along the corridors, which are also stained with blood.
Wearing plastic gloves, and scarves over their faces to fend themselves against the stench of corpses, rebels gather the bodies of dead soldiers which are then buried in a mass grave outside the base.
Other fighters scour the base searching each room and building for weapons, tearing down dozens of portraits of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad which they find along the way.
The fall of Base 46 is another significant victory for the rebels as they consolidate their control over the northern province of Idlib, while battles that first erupted in July in nearby Aleppo continue to rage.
“The highway from the Turkish border to Aleppo is now completely free,” Faj told AFP.
“Base 46 had been besieged for almost two months,” said Faj. “The regime twice tried to break our siege by sending tanks from Aleppo. We resisted both times.”
“On Sunday, we entered the base, and on Monday, the fighting stopped,” said Faj of the rebel Free Syrian Army.
“Nobody helped us, this victory is ours,” he added. “All our weapons were seized from the enemy.”
According to the Observatory, several rebel groups staged the assault on the base together.
Reliable sources told AFP that one of the key groups involved was Fajr al-Islam, an Islamist group.
The army still has an important stronghold at a military base at Sheikh Suleiman, north of Aleppo.