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Rebels capture the largest airbase in Syria

Syrian rebels have reportedly taken control of a key military airbase in Syria's northwest after days of sustained fighting with government forces.

The Free Syrian Army, the main armed opposition to President Bashar al-Assad's regime, is now in full control of the Taftanaz airbase in Idlib province, according to reports.

The BBC quoted rebels as saying they have seized control of buildings, ammunition and military equipment.

GlobalPost's senior correspondent in the region, Tracey Shelton, reports that opposition forces have also secured five working helicopters.

The Free Syrian Army had been fighting for the airbase, the largest in Syria, for almost two months, Shelton reports, before fundamentalist groups moved in to take over the battle.

It's a major victory for opposition forces, who have been bombarded throughout the region from aircraft originating from the Taftanaz airbase.

Abu Hajar, a battalion commander for Suqur al-Sham, one of three coalitions involved in the assault, told GlobalPost that 28 prisoners were captured from government forces including at least one high-ranking officer, along with stockpiles of weapons and ammunition.

“We can now fight without being afraid of the helicopters,” Abu Hajar said, adding that the Syrian military had no other airbases close enough to launch regular attacks in the district with Taftanaz out of the picture.

It's the first major military airport to fall into rebel hands, the director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the Associated Press.

He said that warplanes bombed the base soon after the rebels seized control, but the report has not been confirmed.

Meanwhile, US and Russian officials have met in Geneva with Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN envoy to Syria. Though according to the BBC, a diplomatic breakthrough is unlikely, the two countries are brainstorming how to advance a peace plan that was proposed in June.

According to the Guardian, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the meeting was not an indication that Moscow had "softened in its support" for the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that more than 60,000 people have been killed since the uprising against the president began in March 2011.

Tracey Shelton contributed to this report from Turkey.

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