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Al Nusrah Front, Western-backed rebels overrun key regime base south of Damascus
In the past two days, Syrian rebels overran a base belonging to Brigade 82 of the Syrian Army in the southern province of Deraa. The Brigade 82 facilities, which sit close to the town of Sheikh Maskeen and a highway connecting Damascus with Jordan, were considered a key part of the Assad regime's defenses. The Assad government has responded to the rebel takeover by pounding the insurgents' positions inside the base and Sheikh Maskeen with its military jets and helicopters.
The base reportedly housed surface-to-air missiles and other heavy weaponry, at least some of which appears to have fallen into the rebels' hands. Unverified photos posted on Twitter show rebels in possession of various missiles and launchers. For example, Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, a popular al Qaeda-linked Saudi cleric in Syria, has praised the rebels' takeover and posted photos of missiles that have purportedly fallen into their possession. The photos, which have been tweeted and retweeted by a number of people, can be seen to the right.
A number of insurgency groups have posted videos and photos online showing their fighters taking part in the assault on the base.
The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, and the Islamic Front, an alliance of Islamist groups, are among them. Ahrar al Sham, an al Qaeda-linked organization, leads the Islamic Front.
Screen shots and photos from the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic Front are included at the bottom of this article.
Western-backed rebels, including fighters from the First Army, also participated in the raid on the Brigade 82 base. The First Army issued a statement before the operation was launched saying its men were going to take part in the rebels' new southern offensive. The First Army also released a statement afterwards saying that the base had fallen.
A leader of the First Army identified as Colonel Saber Safar spoke with Reuters about the significance of the base falling into rebel hands. "This advance will help us cut supply routes of the regime forces in the south from their supplies in the north to be able to eventually take over Deraa city," Safar told Reuters, which described the First Army as "a major faction of Western-backed rebels in the 'Southern Front' grouping."
In early January, Asharq Al Awsat reported that the First Army was formed by three rebel groups, each of which had operated as part of the Free Syrian Army. Asharq Al Awsat described the three groups that make up the First Army as "moderate rebel factions," which said they wanted to "unify all FSA factions under a joint military command." The publication cited a commander in the group as saying that they would not only fight Bashar al Assad's regime and its proxies, but also work to contain the growing influence of extremists, meaning the Al Nusrah Front.
The battle for Brigade 82's base, however, shows that the First Army and other "moderate" rebels continue to cooperate with al Qaeda and its extremists allies in southern Syria.
Several pictures and screen shots of other rebels taking part in the raid are published below.
[Source: By Thomas Joscelyn, The Long War Journal, NJ, 26Jan15]
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