DAMASCUS: Syrian troops on Sunday seized full control of the rebel bastion Yabrud in the strategic Qalamun region near the Lebanese border, Syrian state media reported.
“Our brave armed forces have full control over Yabrud in Damascus province and are combing through the town and removing explosive devices placed by terrorists,” state television said, citing a military source.
Syrian troops advanced on Saturday as the country’s civil war entered its fourth year, with more than 146,000 dead, millions displaced and peace efforts stalled.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights NGO said army forces were supported by Lebanon’s Shiite movement Hezbollah, a staunch regime ally.
A military source said “13 rebel chiefs leading operations are dead,” adding there were “many deaths among the insurgents.”
State television broadcast images of the town from its outskirts and said troops had advanced two kilometers (more than a mile) inside the town towards a roundabout.
Yabrud is a key rebel supply route and their last stronghold in the Qalamun region along the border with Lebanon and on the highway between Damascus and third city Homs.
The latest battle illustrates the intractability of the conflict that began on March 15, 2011 after popular uprisings that toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt.
Protests erupted in Syria’s southern city of Daraa after teenagers were arrested over graffiti declaring: “The people want the fall of the regime.”