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Syrian rebel seize military base in Idlib, as gov't forces on back foot

Capture of the al-Qarmid airbase further cements recent gains made by rebels as government responds with bloody air raids - 73 killed
A rebel fighter raises his weapon, as smoke billows in the background, in the northern Syrian town of Jisr al-Shughur (AFP)

The al-Nusra Front on Monday took a military base in the Syrian province of Idlib, further consolidating rebel control over the province.

The group, who are al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, took the al-Qarmid airbase following the killing of 73 people by Syrian government raids as the army struggled to hold on. 

"The al-Qarmid base fell to rebel fighters, and the regime has withdrawn from it," Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman said, noting that the government stored several tanks and heavy artillery pieces at al-Qarmid.

Rahman also told AFP at least two suicide bombers in explosive-laden cars were detonated at the entrances to the base.

The storming of the base, comes just two days after the capture of the town of Jisr al-Shughur by a coalition of rebel forces – including Al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam - on Saturday. The capture has been seen by some analysts and commentators as a turning point in the Syrian war, with forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad increasingly being put on the backfoot. It follows on from major government losses in Idlib province, including the town of Ariha, a military base in al-Mastumah and an air base at Abu Duhur, last month. 

Only a few pocket of government control now exist. 

Rahman said that the fall of the city was a major blow for the Syrian government as it cuts off a key road between Latakia, a government stronghold and ancestral home of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the central province of Hama.

Syrian government forces, perhaps in light of this, have stepped up their bombarding of rebel-held towns in Idlib province, with scores killed including 19 children and 11 women.

An attack on a marketplace in the town of Darkush near the Turkish border also killed 53 people on Sunday as violence continued to rage. 

Some rebel sources also claimed that the government had used chemical weapons in the Jabal al-Zawiya area of northwestern Idlib:

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