Rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have captured a key airbase in the northern province of Aleppo after a months-long battle, an anti-government monitoring group says.
"The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other opposition groups took total control at dawn today of Minnigh airbase," according to a Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) statement released on Tuesday. The SOHR is a UK-based anti-government rights group.
Rebel groups have been fighting loyalists for Minnigh airbase for some eight months, as part of a battle in Aleppo province to stop the government from using warplanes to strike areas in opposition hands.
Rebels laid siege to Minnigh airbase, located about 37km north of Aleppo near the Turkish border, in December 2012 and have tried "dozens of times" before to storm the airport, said the UK-based Observatory said.
Anti-government activists said that the nearby town of Azaz had seen retaliatory airstrikes after the Minnigh base was taken, with at least six people reported killed there.
The Syrian government denied rebel claims that the airbase had been taken, with the state-run SANA news agency reporting that the airbase did not have any military equipment or aircraft.
"Guards [at] Minnegh airport in Aleppo are all fine, terrorist groups are receiving heavy losses around and inside the airport, the airbase in question is free of military equipment and aircrafts" SANA reported.
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Anti-government fighters uploaded a video on YouTube on Tuesday claiming to show fighters seizing helicopters on the airbase.
The reported takeover comes a day after a new assault began early on Monday, when "a non-Syrian man blew himself up in an armoured vehicle at the entrance to the headquarters of the Minnigh air base", the SOHR reported.
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP the suicide bomber was a Saudi national.
After the bombing, fighters attacked and destroyed several army vehicles, killed officers and troops, and seized control of the complex, said the Observatory.
Months earlier, the rebels had captured Al-Jarrah military airport and Base 80, also in Aleppo province.
Aleppo international airport and the Nayrab and Kwayris airbases are still in government control.