The Syrian military has seized a key town on the Lebanese border that was the target of a months-long army offensive, it is reported.
Activists said fighting was still going on but the government was in effective control of much of Yabroud.
Yabroud is an important supply line for rebels into neighbouring Lebanon, and overlooks an important cross-country road.
Its fall, coming as the Syrian conflict enters its fourth year, would be the latest blow to rebels since the initiative passed to the government in the spring of 2013. It is the last major rebel-held town in the mountainous Qalamoun region, where President Bashar Assad’s forces have been waging an offensive for months to try to sever rebel supply lines across the border into eastern Lebanon.
Its fall would come just a week after the Syrian army seized the village of Zara, which also served as a conduit for rebels from mountainous northern Lebanon into central Syria.
Syria’s state news agency, SANA, reported that military forces seized Yabroud early yesterday and were combing the city, removing booby-traps and bombs and hunting down rebels.
Kasem Alzein, a Syrian pro-rebel doctor who lives in the nearby border town of Arsal, said military forces entered the eastern part of Yabroud and that rebels fled to the nearby town of Flita. He said a small hardcore group of fighters had decided to fight to the death in the city.
“They don’t want to surrender,” he said.
But, he added, “supplies are cut off. The weapons that were promised (to rebels) never arrived.”
“Qusair will repeat itself,” Mr Alzein said, referring to another strategic rebel-held town on the Syrian border that fell last summer.
As in the Qalamoun offensive, Lebanese Hezbollah militants played a key role backing government troops.
Gunfire and clashes could be heard on footage broadcast live by the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen. It showed troops walking through empty streets.