Syrian government forces have captured two villages near the border with Lebanon after clashes with opposition fighters, according to state media.
The villages of Flita and Ras Maara fell into the hands of government forces on Saturday morning, helping President Bashar al-Assad secure the route connecting Damascus with Aleppo and the Mediterranean coast.
"The army and armed forces restored stability and security to the towns of Ras Maara and Flita... after getting rid of the fleeing terrorists and destroying their weapons," state news agency SANA said.
The fall of the villages is likely to push more rebel fighters and refugees over the border into Lebanon, risking further destabilisation in the region.
The villages were the latest targets of a government offensive in the rugged Qalamoun border area after troops captured the town of Yabroud earlier this month. Tens of thousands of Syrians have already fled into Lebanon since the Qalamoun offensive began in November.
Lack of progress on Syria aid
Meanwhile, the United Nations' humanitarian chief on Friday told the UN's Security Council that the Assad regime's delays in withholding cross-border aid deliveries were "arbitrary and unjustified" and against international law.
Valerie Amos gave her first such report since the Security Council last month approved a resolution demanding that both the government and opposition allow immediate access everywhere in the country to deliver aid.
"The administrative arrangements that have been put in place for clearance for our convoys are quite convoluted," Amos told Reuters in an interview, after briefing the UN Security Council about how much-needed aid is still not reaching many in Syria.
She said different procedures applied to aid convoys involving multiple agencies and those of individual agencies, make it difficult for aid workers to deliver relief supplies.
"Even if we have the agreement of the government in Damascus, we have examples of individuals on the ground that support the government... who will prevent us from crossing certain checkpoints or prevent us from delivering aid."