An umbrella group of opposition fighters have seized the largest army base in the southern province of Deraa – the birthplace of Syria’s four-year uprising – after 24 hours of fighting, a rebel spokesman and monitoring group have said.

Essam al-Rayes, a spokesman for the Southern Front rebel alliance operating in the province, told the AFP news agency on Tuesday that the “fully liberated” base “was one of the main lines of defence for regime forces”.

“It was a nightmare, because they used it to shell all the areas to the east of the province,” he added.

He said at least 2,000 rebel forces overran the base, which lies near a major highway running from Damascus to Syria’s southern border with Jordan, in a “short and quick” assault.

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