BASE OF THE 46TH REGIMENT, SYRIA - Syrian rebels have taken over a large military base in the country's north, carting off tanks, armored vehicles and truck-loads of munitions their leaders say will give them a boost in their fight to oust the regime of President Bashar Assad.
The fall of the base of the Syrian army's 46th Regiment is a significant step in the rebels' expanding of control in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, along Syria's northern border with Turkey.
Gen. Ahmad al-Faj of the rebels' Joint Command, one grouping of opposition brigades, said rebels attacked the base on Saturday and seized full control on Sunday after defeating or capturing all the government soldiers inside.
Reporters from the Associated Press who visited the base about 15 miles west of Aleppo late Monday saw no trace of government forces other than the dead bodies of seven soldiers. Rebels calmly roamed the base, searching its buildings for booty.
Soviet vintage weaponry
Earlier Monday, AP reporters saw scores of rebels unloading trucks full of rockets, mortars, artillery shells and rifles taken from the base into a rebel headquarters near the Turkish border.
Much of the heavy weaponry that was captured appeared to be of Soviet vintage, including outmoded T-72 main battle tanks.
Russia and Iran are the chief suppliers of arms to the Assad government, though the Kremlin has stepped back from its former role as a major conduit of ordnance to Damascus following an international uproar over civilian deaths in the Syrian conflict.
Al-Faj said the battle was one of the greatest munitions coups for the rebels since the start of the uprising against Assad in March 2011. The conflict has since morphed into a civil war, with scores of opposition groups across the country fighting Assad's troops.
"We'll give this booty to our fighters who are trying to topple the regime," he said. "There has never been a battle before with this much booty."
Al-Faj said that seven rebels were killed in the battle. He didn't know how many government soldiers were in the base when the battle started, or how many were killed. But he said the rebels had taken about 50 prisoners, all of whom would be put on trial by a rebel court.
Anti-regime activists say nearly 40,000 people have been killed since Syria's crisis started 20 months ago.
The Syrian government says the rebels are terrorists backed by foreign powers that seek to destroy the country.