A homemade armored vehicle, which looks like nothing more than a rusty box, has helped Syrian rebels advance against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s army, which is on the retreat in the commercial city of Aleppo.
Sham II, named after ancient Syria, is built from the chassis of a car and touted by rebels as "100 percent made in Syria,” AFP reported.
It required a "month of work" for the design, assembly and development of the vehicle, says its designer Mahmud Abud from the Al-Ansar rebel brigade in the Aleppo region of northwest Syria.
The fully-enclosed vehicle made from light steel is about four meters (approximately 13 feet) in length and two meters across, mounted with a 7.62 mm machinegun controlled from inside the cabin.
The vehicle has five cameras: three at the front, one in the back and another attached to the gun.
The crew inside the cabin is fully protected, with the driver maneuvering the vehicle by watching a screen which displays video from the cameras. The gunner, seated next to the driver, can activate the machinegun by watching another screen and using a control stick equipped with push buttons.
The metal walls are 2.5 centimeters thick and said to be able to resist up to 23 mm cannon fire. The vehicle, however, cannot withstand a rocket-propelled grenade or tank fire.
Sham II, as the name suggests, is an enhanced version of its predecessor. The earlier model shielded the driver but the rest of the crew was exposed to enemy fire. Sham I has already been deployed in combat while Sham II is soon to join the fray in Aleppo as part of the Sa'ad Benmoaz battalion of the Al-Ansar brigade, says Abud.
Rebels claimed victories in the commercial city on Sunday, seizing large swathes of a Syrian military base west of Aleppo, as they consolidated their control over territory in the north near the Turkish border, an AFP journalist said.
The 500-acre base is 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.
Many of the fighters are non-Syrian and one of their leaders, who identified himself as Abu Talha, said he is from Uzbekistan. "Here we are all Muslims," Abu Talha said of the militants.
The militants refused to say which group they belong to, and Abu Talha barred combatants from other factions from entering the combat zone.
The AFP correspondent 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," said an FSA fighter. "They were quicker than us."
The rebels said they seized large quantities of hardware, including three anti-aircraft batteries and mortar ammunition. "There's a lot of arms still on the base," one of them said.
Government troops were holed up in a "scientific research centre," some of them wearing gas masks, he added.
On Saturday an FSA commander, Sheikh Azam Ajamar, had said his troops would not use heavy weapons to attack the base to avoid damaging the research centre. "There is strong probability that chemical arms are there," he claimed.