Rebels seize Syrian army base, arms cache

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BASE OF THE 46TH REGIMENT, Syria -- After a nearly two-month siege, Syrian rebels overwhelmed this large northern military base and made off with tanks, other armored vehicles and truckloads of munitions that rebel leaders say will give them a boost in the fight against President Bashar Assad's army.

The rebel capture of the Syrian army's 46th Regiment base is a sharp blow to the government's efforts to roll back rebels gains and shows a rising level of organization among opposition forces.

More important than the base's fall, however, are the weapons the rebels found inside.

At a rebel base where the much of the haul was taken after the weekend victory, rebel fighters unloaded half a dozen large trucks piled high with green boxes full of mortars, artillery shells, rockets and rifles taken from the base. Parked nearby were five tanks, two smaller armored vehicles, two rocket launchers and two heavy-caliber artillery cannons.

Around 20 Syrian soldiers captured in the battle, barefoot and stripped to the waist, were put to work carrying munitions boxes. Rebels refused to let reporters talk to them or see where they were being held.

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"There has never been a battle before with this much booty," said Gen. Ahmad al-Faj of the rebels Joint Command, a grouping of rebel brigades that was involved in the siege.

Speaking on Monday at the rebel base, set up in a former customs office at Syria's Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, he said the haul would be distributed among the brigades.

For months, Syria's rebels have gradually been destroying government checkpoints and taking over towns in the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo along the Turkish border.

Rebel fighters say that weapons seized in such battles have been essential to their transformation from ragtag brigades into forces capable of challenging Assad's professional army.

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