Rebels attack sprawling army base in south Syria
Rebels attacked a major Syrian army base in the southern province of Daraa on Tuesday in the latest push by opposition fighters against President Bashar Assad’s embattled forces, activists said.
Assad’s forces have suffered several defeats over the past three months at the hands of insurgents, members of al-Qaida’s branch in Syria and the Islamic State extremist group. The government lost the northern city of Idlib, the central historic town of Palmyra and a southern border crossing point with Jordan.
The Western-backed Free Syrian Army rebel group launched the assault at dawn on the army base, known as Brigade 52, said Ahmad al-Masalmeh, an opposition activist in Daraa. He said the rebels have captured the nearby village of Mleiha al-Sharqiyeh.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and al-Masalmeh said Brigade 52 is the largest base in Daraa province. The Observatory, which relies on a network of local activists, said the fighting has killed 20 troops and pro-government gunmen as well as 14 rebels.
The Observatory also said on Tuesday that it has documented the deaths of 230,000 people since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011.
The Observatory said the dead include 69,494 civilians, among them 11,493 children. The conflict has also claimed the lives of 49,106 troops, 32,533 progovernment fighters and 38,592 rebels, it said. The others killed include army defectors, Islamic State militants, foreign fighters and members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, which is fighting alongside government forces.
Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman said the real death toll could be above 300,000, since there are tens of thousands of people who are missing or were buried without being counted.
The U.N. said last year that the war has killed at least 220,000 people. That figure has not been updated.
Syria’s conflict began with peaceful Arab Spring- inspired demonstrations demanding political reform, but eventually escalated into a civil war after the government responded with a violent crackdown on dissent. Today the country is split among Assad’s forces, the Islamic State group and mainly Islamist insurgent groups.