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Syrian rebels strengthen hold on oil-rich province

Capture a key Syrian military base

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BEIRUT — Syrian rebels strengthened their hold Thursday on an oil-rich province bordering Iraq, activists said, capturing a key military base that was considered one of the last bastions for President Bashar Assad's loyalists in the strategic region.

The reported fall of the Mayadeen base, along with its stockpiles of artillery, caps a series of advances in Deir el-Zour, including last week's seizure of a military airport.

Activist groups and a local fighter told The Associated Press that the Mayadeen base was taken in the morning hours, after a three-week siege. The fighter spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

Violence also was reported in opposition strongholds around the capital Damascus and in the northern city of Aleppo, where government aircraft damaged one of the rebels' key field hospitals.

Rebels who have battled government forces for months to control Aleppo, Syria's economic hub, scored a major victory several days ago when they overran the nearby base of the regime's 46th Regiment. The unit was a pillar of the government's Aleppo garrison, and its fall cuts a major supply line.

However, the regime has used its air power to dent rebel gains. Government aircraft late Wednesday flattened a building next to Dar al-Shifa hospital, killing 15 people and badly damaging one of the last remaining sources of medical help for civilians in the city, activists said.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, chief of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said at least 11 fighters were killed in the raid, in addition to a doctor, a young girl and two children who were on the street.

Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, confirmed the bombing and identified the doctor as Mohammad Qassem Agha. The group said 40 people died in airstrikes in Aleppo on Wednesday, but did not say how many died in the hospital strike.

In Damascus, two mortar shells struck the upscale neighborhood of Mazzeh during the morning rush hour Thursday. One of the shells set fire to a sixth-floor apartment in a residential building, seriously injuring one woman. The second mortar struck and damaged the first floor in a building across the street.

Downtown Damascus — the seat of Mr. Assad's power — has seen scores of car bombs and mortar attacks in recent months. Mazzeh, home to a number of embassies and wealthy Syrians, including one exclusive compound housing members of the regime, has been targeted several times in the past few days.

Meanwhile, the military pounded opposition strongholds in the outskirts, activists said. In videos that were posted online by activists Thursday, mortar rounds and artillery shells can be heard landing in the suburb of Daraya.Plumes of black smoke are seen rising from behind rows of houses in a residential area and a fire engulfs a one of the buildings that was hit.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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