Syrian forces, backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, are in full control of Yabroud after clearing out rebels holed up in the strategic Syrian town for months, Syrian state media and opposition activists have reported.
Capturing Yabroud, the last major rebel bastion near the Lebanese border north of Damascus, will help President Bashar al-Assad secure the land route linking his Mediterranean coastal stronghold with the capital Damascus, and choke off a cross-border rebel supply line from Lebanon.
“The Syrian army is now in full control of the town of Yabroud in Damascus [province] and are now combing through the city and dismantling the roadside bombs planted by terrorists,” SANA news agency reported on Sunday.
“We took total control of the town at 10:00 am (0800 GMT),” an army officer confirmed to the AFP news agency as visibly exhausted soldiers rested on pavements lining the streets.
“This was the most difficult battle we have fought because the rebels were in mountains surrounding the town, and in buildings in Yabrud,” the officer said.
“First we had to occupy the hills, and then on Saturday we entered the town through the east, up to the sports centre. Today we finished the work.”
A military source told the Reuters news agency that most of the rebels had pulled out of Yabroud around dawn on Sunday, a day after pro-government forces had entered eastern districts of the town and captured several strategic hilltops in the surrounding Qalamoun mountains.
Abu al-Huda al-Homsi, an activist in Qalamoun, told Al Jazeera that the Syrian regime soldiers and Hezbollah stormed into Yabroud under a cover of heavy aerial and artillery bombardment.
“They used a scorched-earth policy, showering us with tens of shells every day until he fighters were forced to withdraw,” he said.
But a spokesman for the rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria, said Assad’s forces had not captured the city and that fighting was continuing on the outskirts of Yabroud.