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Syrian rebels capture base in key province

BEIRUT — Syrian rebels captured a military base in strategic Homs Province on Thursday as opposition fighters fought to expand territory under their control near the Lebanese border, activists said.

The central region is important to President Bashar Assad because it links Damascus, his seat of power, with one of his main allies, the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon.

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The latest rebel gains came during a government counteroffensive that has scored successes in the central and northern regions in recent days. The alternate gains highlight the shifting nature of the conflict in Syria, where victories in one area are often followed by reverses in another.

In recent months, the rebels have chipped away at the government’s hold in northern and eastern Syria. They have also made significant gains in the south between Damascus and the Jordanian border, helped in part by a recent influx of foreign-funded weapons.

The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights said opposition fighters took control of the entire Dabaa military complex in Homs Thursday afternoon, after weeks of fighting.

Dabaa is a former air force base and has an airfield, which has not been used since the fighting broke out more than two years ago. Instead, the army has based ground troops in the facility to fight the rebels, the Observatory said. It did not say how many — if any — troops were at the base when it was captured.

The base is located near Qusair, a contested central Syrian town near a key highway between Damascus and the coastal enclave that is the heartland of Syria’s Alawite community.

The area also is home to the country’s two main seaports, Latakia and Tartus.

Homs Province was the site of some of the heaviest fighting during the first year of the Syrian conflict, which erupted in March 2011, and intermittent episodes of violence since.

More than 70,000 people have been killed and more than 5 million people have been displaced by the Syrian conflict, according to the UN.

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