Syria army 'gains ground' along Lebanon border
Pro-government forces patrol a street in the Syrian town of Yabrud on March 16, 2014 after they seized full control of the rebel bastion in the strategic Qalamun region - by Joseph Eid
"The army took control this morning of the villages of Ras al-Maarra and Flita, after bombing the last groups of armed terrorists there," the source said.
President Bashar al-Assad's troops, backed by fighters of Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, have been waging a ferocious assault against rebel positions in Qalamun, north of Damascus, since November.
They seized the rebels' last major stronghold in the region, the town of Yabrud, in mid-March and have since moved on rebel-held villages closer to the border in a bid to stop the flow of weapons and fighters from Lebanon.
The military source said the latest advance "is a new step towards closing off the border with Lebanon."
Though the capture of Flita and Ras al-Maarra has not completely sealed the border, "any success... helps seal the border more tightly, at least at the main crossing points that (the rebels use) to transport vehicles," he added.
Rebel fighters in the two villages were overwhelmed by the army's superior firepower, an activist in the region, Jawad al-Sayed, said.
"The fighters are very visible from the sky, and they are being hit from afar, whether by planes or tanks."
Local rebel commander Ahmed Nawaf Durra was killed in the fighting, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said that despite the army's recapture of the two villages, "it will be very difficult to control the whole border.
"The army and Hezbollah would need to deploy fighters all along the border, which is impossible," he told AFP.
- Lesotho PM heading home after 'coup'
- Kiev warns of 'great war' with Russia as its forces retreat
- SADC regional bloc to send observers to Lesotho after 'coup'
- Defending arming of Kurds, Merkel calls Islamic State a threat
- Greece close to emerging from recession
- Falcao's Manchester move ends Europe transfer boom
- Falcao leads Europe transfer frenzy
- Pakistan government considers crackdown on protesters
- Parents of tumour boy held in Spain as sympathy grows
- Eurozone manufacturing slows further in August
- Rites for MH17 victims carried out in orderly manner, says Jakim – Bernama
- Rayer arrested over involvement with anti-crime patrol unit
- Sarawak minister blames police for events leading to riot in stadium
- Cops release Penang exco Phee Boon Poh and PPS members
- State government calls on Penangites to take over community policing from patrol unit
- Hands off Unit Amal, PAS Youth chief tells minister
- Putrajaya’;s sledgehammer strategy might blow up in its face
- PPS not an outlaw, dangerous group, says DAP
- Malaysia refuses New Zealand activist entry
- UM law lecturer Azmi Sharom faces sedition charge tomorrow