(LONDON) -- Syrian rebels were reported to have made a major military gain on Wednesday near the city where President Bashar al-Assad began a crackdown on his enemies two years ago.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an air defense base of the 49th battalion came under rebel control after they overran Syrian military checkpoints.
The base is not far from Dara'a, the southern city near the Jordanian border where Syrians began their protests in March 2011 against al-Assad's autocratic regime. The government responded violently to the demonstrations, fueling the insurgency that threatens to topple al-Assad.
While the rebels still haven't taken over wide swaths of the country, they have made significant gains in the north, south and east. For the most part, the government controls all the major cities, which nonetheless have come under siege as the conflict drags on into a third year.
The United Nations estimates that more than 70,000 people have died due to war-related violence, although the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims the death toll is much higher.
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