Free Syrian Army fighters
Free Syrian Army fighters (Reuters)

Syrian rebels battling president Bashar al-Assad have gained control of a strategic airbase near the border with Turkey after months of fighting.

The Mannagh military airport, north of Aleppo, is now under the control of Islamic State of Iraq, al-Fateh brigade and other al-Qaida linked rebel battalions according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

The helicopter base fell nearly 24 hours after rebels linked to al-Qaida launched an offensive against it.

"The attack began at dawn yesterday when a Saudi national from the al-Muhajireen and al-Ansar battalions blew himself up in an armoured vehicle that was driven to its target by his fellow fighter Abu Omar al-Shishani (the Chechnyan); they exploded by the besieged airport's HQ," read a statement by the SOHR.

Earlier, Syria state TV claimed troops were still defending the base and that rebels "suffered very large losses around and inside the airport". Quoting an unnamed Information Ministry official, the station said "the heroes of our armed forces at Mannagh air base and nearby areas are confronting terrorists with great courage".

The base is the largest to fall into rebel hands since opposition forces captured the Taftanaz base in the northern province of Idlib in January.

Syria main opposition coalition, the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, congratulated the fighters for the capture of the base. It said rebels "fully liberated the Mannagh air base and will transfer it from a regime tool for oppression to a minaret of liberation".

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