Syrian Rebel fighters claim gains in northern Syria, including the town of Bdama and Khirbet al Joz.
The Syrian rebels have made some major territorial gains in the north of the country – taking key towns and villages along the Turkish border.
The rebels as they stormed into Bdama, a strategically important town just over a mile from the border with Turkey.
The town is crucial to the rebel arms smugglers because it gives them access to the north-west of the country and towns like Latakia, Idlib and Hama.
For the Government, it is a key transport link from the President’s home region of Latakia and Syria’s second city of Aleppo.
Hundreds of rebel fighters poured into the town after overpowering army checkpoints surrounding it. Many of the fighters wept as they saw friends and neighbours they have been separated from for more than a year.
Among those returning was Mahmoud Mosa, the headmaster of the town’s preparatory school. He and his family fled to safety and Turkey when President Bashar al Assad’s forces moved into the town in June last year.
He hugged and kissed friends, dropping to his knees in prayer several times as he walked into his hometown behind the first wave of rebels. ‘We have waited for this time for so long,’ he said, “I am so happy.”
Vehicles packed full of fighters fired their weapons into the air in celebration as they drove through the town.
Women stood in huddles, some crying, others shouting with joy, while some gathered on the rooftops to watch the spectacle.
The town has dramatically emptied over the past few weeks as residents have fled the increasing instability.
The fierce fighting around the northern border area between Syria and Turkey has led to the most serious escalation in tension between the two countries since the 18-month-old uprising began. Turkish troops retaliated for the sixth day running against incoming mortar shells from northern Syria.
But the sandbagged checkpoints which the Syrian regime had set up inside Bdama homes and around the town have been abandoned, along with several tanks and other military vehicles.
The rebels drove away trucks loaded with ammunition and weapons which will be used in future attacks against the regime.
Next to one abandoned tank, we found a large unexploded land mine which had been planted in the centre of a residential area.
Residents and rebels entered areas which had been previously off-limits and occupied by regime soldiers, tearing down posters of President Assad and burning them, as well as trashing the empty offices.
Hours later, the taking of Bdama paid dividends as rebels attacked and captured the border post and town of Khirbet al Joz.
Four units of rebels fighters stormed the three-storey high water tower which forms the focal point of the town.
Dead Assad soldiers were still in their foxholes when we arrived and there were other bodies at the entrance of the tower, killed as they were defending it.
One soldier, who appeared to have been shot through the leg, lay underneath graffiti which had been sprayed on the tower’s exterior wall. “Allah, Syria, and Bashar only,” it said in Arabic.
The soldier had attempted to tie a tourniquet on his right leg to stem his gushing blood. A bloody fingerprint was smeared on the wall above him. He appeared to have bled to death. A gas mask lay among the military debris and hundreds of spent cartridges.
This will concern international leaders who fear the Assad regime may be preparing to use chemical weapons in this war.
The rebels are taking territory and making significant gains at a pace not seen before in this conflict.