Syrian rebels captured large parts of a military base in the strategic central Homs province on Thursday in an attempt to expand territory under their control near the Lebanese border, activists said.
The latest rebel advances came a day after President Bashar-al-Assad accused the West of backing al-Qaida in Syria’s 2-year-old conflict and warned that it will pay a price “in the heart” of Europe and the United States as the terror network becomes emboldened. In a rare TV interview, Mr Assad also lashed out at Jordan for allowing “thousands” of fighters to enter Syria to fight in the civil war.
The rebels have in the past months chipped away the regime’s hold in northern and eastern Syria. They have also made significant gains in the south, in the area between Damascus and the Jordanian border, helped in part by a recent influx of foreign-funded weapons across the boundary.
The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights said the opposition fighters took control of most of the Dabaa military complex on Thursday morning, after weeks of fighting with government forces for control of the facility. Sporadic fighting was still ongoing in some parts of the base, the Observatory said.
Dabaa, in Homs province, is a former air force base and has an airfield, which hasn’t been used since the fighting broke out. Instead, the army has based ground troops in the facility to fight the rebels, the Observatory said.
The base is located near Qusair, a contested central Syrian town near a key highway between Damascus and the coastal enclave, which is the heartland of Syria’s Alawite community, and also home to the country’s two main seaports, Latakia and Tartus.
Syrian officials deny there is an uprising, accusing those who have turned against the government of being foreign-backed terrorists and Islamic extremists.
Earlier this year, the U.S. announced a $60 million non-lethal assistance package for Syria that includes meals and medical supplies for the armed opposition.
On Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress that the Pentagon is sending about 200 soldiers from an Army headquarters unit to Jordan to assist efforts to contain violence along the Syrian border and plan for any operations needed to ensure the safety of chemical weapons in Syria.