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Nusra Front in Syria take last army base in Idlib

Abu Duhur military airport has been under siege between regime forces and rebel groups for the last two years

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Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate has seized control of the last military base held by the regime in the northwestern province of Idlib after a two-year siege, leaving the entire province free of government forces, a monitoring group said on Wednesday.

Syrian state television announced “the retreat of the army [from Abu Zuhour air base]... which had protected the airport during a two-year-siege.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said insurgents, including members of the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, captured the base under the cover of a sandstorm and forced government forces out of their last post in Idlib province, which borders Turkey.

The local Coordination Committees posted a photo on its Facebook page it said showed Nusra Front fighters standing in front of warplanes inside the base.

Al-Nusra Front and allied Islamist groups had captured nearly all of the Abu Duhur military airport after the siege, the Observatory said.

Rebel forces had seized the entrance to the airport and several positions on its outskirts in late August in an advance that began with suicide bombers on motorbikes.

The so-called “Army of Conquest”, a collection of Islamist and militant forces, captured the Idlib provincial capital in March and has since driven Syria's military from most of the province.

The capture of Abu Zuhour is the latest in a series of setbacks for government forces in Idlib province.

Insurgents now control nearly all the province, except for the predominantly Shiite villages of Foua and Kfarya, which pro-government militiamen hold.

Idlib is the second of Syria’s 14 provinces to be free of Syrian government forces. Raqqa in the north is held by the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

Syria’s conflict has killed more than 250,000 people since March 2011.

(With AFP and AP)