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Rebels Seize Abu al-Duhur Air Base in Idlib From Syrian Forces

Ban Ki-moon On Syria: 'History’s Judgment Will Be Harsh' 1:11

Al Qaeda-linked rebels in Syria have forced government troops out of a major air base in the north-western province of Idlib, state TV said Wednesday.

Under siege for nearly two years, the Abu al-Duhur compound was one of the last remaining military strongholds in the region, part of which borders Turkey.

But in a newsflash Syrian state television said the army garrison that was defending the base had evacuated.

Their withdrawal follows the seizure of number of cities in the province, including Idlib and Jisr al-Shughour, by a coalition of Islamist groups known as the Army of Conquest, which includes al Qaeda's Nusra Front.

They reportedly played a leading role in the capture of the air base, which has come under sustained attack in recent months. In late August, militants used suicide attacks to seize the entrance and several positions on its outskirts.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday that the country’s military had been completely driven out of the Idlib province, although NBC News was unable to independently verify the claim.

Members of a local pro-government militia remained in two villages, Observatory spokesman Rami Abdulrahman said, but the army itself had withdrawn.

On its website, the group said that the rebels had “taken advantage of bad weather and sandstorms” to launch the attack.

The news will likely come as a blow to Syrian president Bashar Assad whose regime has been at war with various rebel groups over the past four years. At least 240,000 people have died in the conflict.