DAMASCUS, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian army fully captured the strategic Abu al-Duhur air base in the northwestern province of Idlib Saturday, a military source told Xinhua.
The capture of Abu al-Duhur was achieved after intense battles with the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee (LLC), otherwise known as the Nusra Front, said the source on condition of anonymity.
The military forces began storming the air base earlier in the day from its southern rim while other military units were fighting to secure areas in the eastern and southwestern outskirts of the air base, the source said.
He added that intense battles were raging between the Syrian forces and the LLC in the surrounding of the base in the southern countryside of Idlib.
Earlier this month, the army was fighting at the outskirts of the air base and was close to capturing it, but a major counter-offensive by the militants hindered the advance.
At the time, the Turkey-backed Turkistan Party and the Ahrar al-Sham Movement in addition to the LLC launched several waves of attacks to halt the advance of the Syrian army.
The Syrian forces closed in on the air base from the northern countryside of the central province of Hama toward the southern countryside of Idlib and the nearby southern countryside of Aleppo province, which largely fell to the army following the near-defeat of the al-Qaida affiliates in that region recently.
The source said the army captured 15 towns in the entwined countrysides of Aleppo and Idlib on Saturday, managing thus to place a siege on the al-Qaida-linked militants and other rebel groups in an area of 1,200 square km in the countrysides of Idilb, Aleppo and Hama provinces.
The Syrian army was aiming to capture Abu al-Duhur due to the strategic importance of that facility and its crucial role in launching further offensives against the LLC and likeminded groups in Idlib.
The offensive to recapture the base has also aimed to lay the siege on the rebels in the countrysides of the three provinces and secure areas close to the road to Aleppo.
Abu al-Duhur is the second-largest military base in northern Syria and has 22 runways. It has a strategic location as it lies between Idlib and Hama provinces and stretches on an area of 8 square km.
The air base is 50 km from the capital city of Idilb, and 50 km from Aleppo city. The militants of the Turkistan Party and the LLC captured the base during an offensive in September 2015.
Idlib has emerged as the main destination of the rebel groups, which have evacuated several positions across Syria after surrendering to the Syrian army.
The area has become a home to several rebel groups from different affiliations, some of which are supported by Turkey, while others, such as the Nusra Front, are designated as terrorist groups.
Turkey, a staunch opponent of President Bashar al-Assad's government, called on Russia and Iran earlier this month to pressure the Syrian government to halt the military offensive in Idlib.