Russia reveals vast rebel tunnel network in northwest Syria
The tunnels run for hundreds of meters, connecting mattress-strewn caves dug into a rocky outcrop that could shelter up to 5,000 people.
The road leading to the entrance of the tunnels in Latamneh - the site of an Assad regime chemical weapons attack on an underground hospital - is lined with the charred shells of cars and armored vehicles.
"We think this network was dug about four years ago with sophisticated machinery, of a kind which is not available in Syria," a Syrian army colonel said as he led reporters into the tunnels, escorted by Russian demining experts.
"Those who fought here retreated to the north. First to Khan Sheikhoun and then further into Idlib province when our forces took the city," he added.
In some places, the tunnels are barely big enough to stand in but connect large rooms carved out of the rock, including a prayer room, a drone workshop, a bathroom and even a prison.
Military officials told AFP reporters that the total size of the underground network, in which crates of ammunition were found, has not yet been fully assessed.
|The caves provide a glimpse into the day-to-day operations
of the rebel fighters [Getty]
It was used primarily by fighters from hardline Islamist factions, among them the alliance known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham that now dominates the entire Idlib enclave.
In some of the caves, empty food cans and crumpled plastic water bottles, jerry-cans and decaying clothes give a glimpse of daily life in the dark hideout.
Some rooms were done up with tile panels and a coat of paint while others have fully cemented walls, over which Syrian soldiers have since scribbled slogans praising President Bashar al-Assad.
The room which officers believe was used as a prison was dug out no less than 400 meters deep into the maze of tunnels and caves.
Blood stains are still visible on the ground, as are tiny separate cells with rusting doors.
The Russian army said it has uncovered around 10 such underground networks across northwestern Syria and others in the desert region of Palmyra.
Officers said the Latamneh cave was a local hub for the manufacture of drones that rebels used against regime and Russian forces.