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Syrian rebels seize army base on Iraqi border

Opponents of Bashar al-Assad’s regime seized a military base in eastern Syria on Thursday, adding another district to their growing territory along the oil-rich Iraqi border, which the rebels now say is the largest region under their control.

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Syrian rebels captured an army artillery base in the eastern oil producing province of Deir al-Zor on Thursday, weakening President Bashar al-Assad’s control of the strategic region bordering Iraq.

“After 20 days and 44 martyrs, the Mayadeen military base fell at 8.30 am (06.30 GMT), Abu Laila, an official in the Military Revolutionary Council in the province, said. “The whole countryside, from the Iraqi border and along the Euphrates to the city of Deir al-Zor, is now under rebel control,” he told Reuters news agency.

Another opposition source in contact with fighters confirmed that the base, which lies 42 south-east of the city of Deir al-Zor, had fallen to rebel hands. "The area east of the city of Deir al-Zor on the Iraqi border, is now the largest area in the whole country that is out of army control," said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) director Rami Abdel Rahman. "In that area of Syria, there are deep tribal loyalties, and fighters in western Iraq help the rebels fight the regime," he told AFP news agency.

The oil and gas-rich area of Deir al-Zor is home to Sunni Muslim tribes whose ties extend across the border into Iraq.

Troops expelled by rebels from Mayadeen were forced to withdraw to a military airport east of the city of Deir al-Zor, AFP reported.

Meanwhile, most oil and gas fields in the large desert province are still under regime control, said the UK-based SOHR, which relies on a network of activists, lawyers and medics on the ground.

The Syrian National Council, one of the country's main opposition groups, declared Deir al-Zor a "disaster area" last month.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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