The battle also showed the strength of Islamic militants in the rebel ranks. The assault on Taftanaz was carried out by fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida-affiliated group that includes many non-Syrian jihadis, and by other Syrian brigades with a similar hard-line Islamist ideology.
Fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, which the U.S. has branded a terrorist organization, have been among the most effective in the rebel ranks.
They launched their siege of the sprawling base in November and finally broke into it Wednesday evening. After fierce fighting lasting until dawn, they swept over the entire facility.
‘‘As of now, the rebels are in full control of the air base,’’ said Idlib-based activist Mohammad Kanaan.
After sunset, troops bombarded Taftanaz with artillery from nearby areas, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based anti-Assad activist group that gathers information from operatives on the ground. Rebels have been forced to abandon previous bases they have captured because they are too exposed to regime strikes.
But, as in previous captures of smaller bases, weapons were the key prize.
Video taken by activists inside the base and posted online showed rebels dismantling ammunition from a heavy machine gun in the base and loading the ammunition into a truck. In other videos, rebels are seen celebrating inside the base, some kneeling and kissing the ground and others showing off booty including multiple rocket launchers. Kanaan said tanks were also captured.
The videos appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting on the events depicted.
One video showed helicopters in the field, some destroyed, some seemingly intact. It was not clear whether any were operable. The Observatory said around 20 helicopters were seized but none were in working order. Rebels have seized helicopters in the past but there’s been no reported case of them flying one.
‘‘These are the helicopters that belonged to Assad’s regime and now they are the helicopters of the Syrian people,’’ said the video’s narrator, who spoke with an Arabic accent indicating he was from North Africa.
In one video, at least six dead men in military uniform were seen on the ground outside one of the housing units in the base. Two other dead men were seen inside the building. ‘‘They refused to defect. We have been urging them to defect since our attack began 10 days ago,’’ the rebel narrating the video said.
Another video released by the Observatory showed at least four dead men in uniform, including two in pilots’ uniforms, in what appeared to be a trench.
There was no immediate word on casualties among rebels.
Until the fall of Taftanaz, the biggest capture had been that of the Marj al-Sultan base just outside the capital Damascus. The base was mostly used for fixing helicopters but the rebels captured several choppers in it.
Also Friday, a car bomb killed one person in Damascus, activists and state media said. The Observatory said the dead man was a police general, while state-run news agency SANA said the dead was a civilian.
Rebels said Friday that a senior rebel commander was gunned down this week by rival fighters in northern Syria.
Thaer al-Waqqas, a northern commander with the al-Farouq Brigades, was shot dead at a rebel-held position in the town of Sarmada, near the Turkish border Wednesday. A rebel, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the incident, said al-Waqqas had been wanted by the al-Qaida affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra group for suspected involvement in the September killing of Sheikh Firas al-Absi, a member of the group.
There are dozens of opposition groups and rebel brigades fighting in the civil war and the killings raised the specter of infighting between rebels seeking to topple Assad. Rivalries are common and there have been several several instances of rebels fighting each other over ideological and other differences.
Al-Farouk brigades, in a posting on its website, said al-Waqqas was killed by ‘‘the gangs of treachery and treason who claim to be fighting under the banner of the revolution.’’
It vowed to revenge his killing.