Syrian forces have captured a strategic rebel-held town in the province of Homs, after a month of intense fighting, state media and the army have said.

The military reported taking "full control of the town of Zara and its surroundings" in the western Homs countryside on Saturday.

Without al-Hosn and Zara, it will be the end of the revolution to the west of Homs

Samy al-Homsi, Activist

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the capture, saying Zara, near the Krak des Chevaliers castle, fell a day after it was hit by air strikes.

Activist Samy al-Homsi told the Associated Press news agency, “the town was one of two last strongholds for rebels along the Lebanese border leading to the city of Homs, the other being the nearby village of al-Hosn”.

“Without al-Hosn and Zara, it will be the end of the revolution to the west of Homs… It's the only two areas left to the rebels there.”

The Observatory said the town, which is mostly inhabited by the minority Sunni Turkmen, was taken after “fierce fighting between loyalist troops and fighters from Jund al-Sham and other rebel groups.”

The military emphasised the importance of the town due to its location linking central Syria to the Mediterranean coast and its role as a “key passageway for groups coming from Lebanon”.

The capture of Zara comes as the army battles rebels further south around Yabroud, an opposition stronghold in the Qalamoun mountains close to the Lebanese border.

The fighting is part of an offensive launched late last year to secure the Damascus-Homs highway and to severe a key rebel supply route to the town of Arsal in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. 

Homs ceasefire: A turning point?

Fractured opposition

Meanwhile, Syria's main opposition coalition confirmed in a statement on Saturday that it had chosen a new army chief following the refusal of General Salim Idriss to step down.

The statement insisted that despite some confusion, Brigadier General Abdel Ilah al-Bashir would assume leadership of the coalition's military council.

The body originally issued the announcement appointing al-Bashir on February 17. But two days later, Idriss rejected his dismissal. Then Idriss, along with more than a dozen senior opposition fighters, severed ties with the political opposition-in-exile, further fragmenting the notoriously divided rebel movement.

Source: Agencies