BEIRUT - Rebels seized an air defense base near Syria's strategic southern international highway on Saturday, activists said, a gain that could bolster opposition fighters trying to secure supply routes to the capital Damascus.
Syria's southern provinces bordering Jordan and Israel have become an increasingly significant battleground as the embattled capital comes into play, with President Bashar Assad's forces and his loyalist militias hitting back hard to prevent rebel advances.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of sources among activists across Syria, said among those killed was the base commander after a two-week battle for the site in Deraa, a province bordering Jordan where initially peaceful protests against Assad set off Syria's two-year uprising.
"Fighters from the Nusra Front, Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, and other battalions seized control of the 38th division air defense base, near the town of Saida on the Damascus-Amman highway, after 16 days of fierce clashes," the Observatory said.
The Nusra Front is an Islamist militant group suspected of links to al-Qaida and blacklisted by the United States as a "terrorist group". Its forces, which include foreign fighters, have come to increasing prominence in the revolt.