Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have recaptured the rebel-held Syrian border town of Rankous, military sources and state television say, consolidating their control over a former rebel supply line from neighbouring Lebanon.
The capture of Rankous was the latest stage of an offensive by the army and fighters from Lebanese Shia armed group Hezbollah to seal off the border region and secure the main highway leading north from Damascus towards central Syria, Homs, and the Mediterranean coast.
“Units of the Syrian army have now accomplished their operation in the Rankous area and restored security and stability after eliminating a large number of terrorists,” Syrian state television said on Wednesday.
Wednesday’s advance took place less than a month after Hezbollah and the Syrian army recaptured the rebel stronghold of Yabroud, choking off the vital supply line into central Syria.
Rankous is about 45 kilometres north of Damascus and was home to 20,000 people before the conflict in Syria began in March 2011.
Backed by Shia fighters from Hezbollah and Iraq as well as Russian weapons and Iranian military commanders, Assad has regained territory around Damascus and central Syria leading to the coastal strongholds of his Alawite minority.
The rebels still control a few smaller villages in the region, but have seen their supply lines across the border with Lebanon largely severed.
Rebel fighters still control most of eastern Syria and the north, and are fighting Assad’s forces in north of the coastal province of Latakia.