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Syria rebels seize key military base in Daraa

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday seized a key air base in the southern Syrian province of Daraa after two weeks of fierce battles with loyalist troops, a watchdog said.

Elsewhere, at least 35 rebels were killed in battles against troops loyal to Damascus that raged near the sensitive ceasefire line with Israel, in the southern province of Quneitra.

"Opposition fighters loyal to Al-Nusra Front, Al-Yarmuk Brigade and other rebel groups seized air defence Base 38 near the town of Saida, on the road linking Damascus to Amman, in the province of Daraa," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The seizure came "after 16 days of fighting," the Britain-based monitoring group added.

At least seven rebels were killed in their final assault on the base, said the Observatory, which also documented the deaths of at least eight regime troops including an officer.

"Dozens of prisoners were freed from the base's headquarters," the watchdog added.

Amateur video filmed by rebels and distributed by the Observatory showed the bloodied, mutilated corpse of a man identified as Mahmud Darwish, an officer.

Activists also distributed footage showing a group of men, most of them bearded, being freed.

The Syrian Revolution General Commission, a network of activists on the ground, meanwhile reported the rebel capture of a checkpoint in the town of Sahem al-Golan, also in Daraa.

Amateur video showed rebels seizing at least two regime tanks and several military vehicles after they captured the checkpoint.

"I swear to God, we are coming for you, O Bashar" al-Assad, according to one rebel fighter shown in a video distributed by anti-regime activists.

In Quneitra meanwhile, at least 35 rebels were killed on Wednesday and Thursday fighting troops loyal to Assad, said the Observatory.

Some 20 other fighters were also believed dead after battles in majority Druze villages in Quneitra province, which lays on the sensitive ceasefire line with Israel.

The Observatory's reports came a day after at least 128 people were killed across Syria -- 38 troops, 53 insurgents and 37 civilians.

At least 70,000 people have been killed in Syria since the an anti-regime revolt that broke out in March 2011 morphed into an insurgency after the regime unleashed a brutal crackdown on dissent, the UN says.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130323/syria-rebels-seize-key-military-base-daraa