Following weeks of intense fighting against ISIS and other jihadist forces, elite Syrian army units have broken the siege of Kweires airbase.
The airbase, which opens up routes for offensives against Raqqa and Aleppo, had been under seige for nearly two years.
Syrian troops have been supported by Iranian forces and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters in a push to regain territory that has been lost to insurgents, largely in the north.
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State television broadcast live footage from the airbase of an emotional as a reporter announced the news.
“We, the heroes of Kweires, are now celebrating this victory with our brothers,” a soldier told Syrian state television.
“We dedicate this victory to President Bashar Assad and we promise him we will continue fighting until all of Syria is liberated. We will not kneel to Daesh [Islamic State].”
The advancing Tiger Forces, the name for the commando units in the government army, who were completing a drive that began on October 16, reportedly liberated several hundred soldiers.
Syrian government troops staged a counter-offensive in the north of the country, and are now pushing towards the rebel stronghold of Aleppo, where fighting has moved from street to street, and towards Raqqa, Islamic State’s (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) de facto capital in Syria.
The Kweires base holds symbolic value for the Syrian people following devastating incursions by IS in August. The relatives of the soldiers inside the base had been staging public protests calling for the facility to be taken back.
“Our forces are continuing our offensive, and this is leading to rifts among the Islamist factions,” General Ali Mayhoob told the media on Tuesday.
A key role in the operation was played by Russia’s air support.
Russia has made over 1,600 sorties since establishing an airbase in northern Syria in September at the personal request of Syrian president Bashar Assad, who has been battling the rebels and IS since 2011.
Al Jazeera reports that in the wake of several defeats, IS is now dispatching reinforcements from Raqqa towards Aleppo to battle against the Syrian advance.