Syrian rebels claimed to have captured an army artillery base in the eastern oil producing province of Deir al-Zour on Thursday, a monitoring group said, weakening by that President Bashar al-Assad’s control of the strategic region bordering Iraq.
“The area east of the city of Deir al-Zour, 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 director Rami Abdel Rahman to AFP.
“After 20 days and 44 martyrs, the Mayadeen military base fell at 8.30 a.m. (0630 GMT). The whole countryside, from the Iraqi border and along the Euphrates to the city of Deir al-Zour, is now under rebel control,” Abu Laila, an official in the Military Revolutionary Council in the province, told Reuters.
Another opposition source in contact with rebels confirmed to Reuters that the base, 42 km (26 miles) south-east of the city of Deir al-Zour, had fallen “after a long siege”.
The oil and gas-rich area of Deir al-Zour is home to Sunni Muslim tribes whose ties extend across the border into Iraq.
“In that area of Syria, there are deep tribal loyalties, and fighters in western Iraq help the rebels fight the regime,” Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Troops expelled by rebels from Mayadeen were forced to withdraw to a military airport east of the city of Deir al-Zour.
Meanwhile, Syrian opposition activists say regime warplanes have flattened a building next to a hospital in the northern city of Aleppo, killing at least 13 people on Wednesday.
Abdul-Rahman told the Associated Press that a doctor and two children were among those killed in the bombing Wednesday night that struck near the city’s Dar al-Shifa hospital. At least 10 fighters were also killed in the attack, Abdul-Rahman added.
The hospital was once a private clinic and now operates as a rebel field hospital that also treats civilians.
40,000 killed in Syria revolt
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday that at least 40,000 people have been killed in violence across Syria since the outbreak of an anti-regime revolt in March last year.
“At least 28,026 civilians, 1,379 defectors, 10,150 soldiers and 574 unidentified people have been killed in Syria in the past 20 months,” said the Observatory's director Rami Abdel Rahman.
Civilians represented the vast majority of the 40,129 people killed, said the Observatory, which includes non-military people who have taken up arms against Assad’s regime in that figure.
The Observatory did not include thousands of people who have gone missing in the conflict, some thought to be in detention and others slain. It also excluded thousands of dead pro-regime militiamen.
The Britain-based Observatory relies on a network of activists, lawyers and medics at military and civilian hospitals inside Syria for its information.