Radical Islamist rebels on Sunday seized large swathes of a Syrian military base west of Aleppo, as they consolidated their control over territory in the north near the Turkish border, AFP reported.
According to the report, Sheikh Suleiman base sprawls over nearly 500 acres of rocky hills about 15 miles from Aleppo city, an area now almost completely under rebel control.
Fighters hoisted a trademark black jihadist flag over one of the buildings they captured in the morning as firefights persisted with light weapons as they tried to take the rest of the base, reported AFP.
Many of the fighters are non-Syrian and one of their leaders, who identified himself as Abu Talha, said he is from Uzbekistan.
An AFP correspondent in the area said fighters from the main rebel Free Syrian Army did not take part in the battle for Sheikh Suleiman, and that only a small FSA group in nearby villages monitored the battle through binoculars.
"The Islamists caught us unawares by launching an attack on their own against the base on Saturday night," an FSA fighter told the news agency. "They were quicker than us."
Earlier, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebels took control of Regiment 111 and three other company posts inside the base after fierce overnight clashes.
The rebels said they seized large quantities of hardware, including three anti-aircraft batteries and mortar ammunition, reported AFP.
The report of the takeover came hours after the regime of President Bashar al-Assad said that Syrian rebels had gained control of a toxic chlorine factory east of Aleppo.
However, the spokesman who issued the statement was sacked within hours for making statements that “did not reflect government policy,” according to Beirut-based Al-Manar TV, linked to Iran-backed Hizbullah terrorists.
The statement, quoted Sunday by Radio Free Europe's Radio Liberty, came less than a week after the Syrian foreign ministry claimed that Assad's troops would never use chemical weapons against his own people.
Israel's government and military personnel are monitoring the northern border and the entire situation within Syria very closely to determine what effect, if any, the conflict may have on its own citizens. The IDF stands prepared to act as necessary to defend its citizens, a spokesman said.