Syrian troops on Sunday seized full control of the rebel bastion Yabrud in the strategic Qalamun region near the Lebanese border, Syrian state media reported.
“Our brave Armed Forces have full control over Yabrud in Damascus province and are combing through the town and removing explosive devices placed by terrorists,” state television said, citing a military source.
Opposition sources told AFP that civilians and activists from the town had fled across the nearby border into Lebanon overnight before Yabrud fell.
The loss of the town will be a symbolic and practical blow for the opposition.
It has been a rebel stronghold since early in the uprising that began in March 2011 and has proved a key strategic prize because of its proximity to the Lebanese border, across which weapons and fighters can be smuggled.
It also lies on the important highway that connects Damascus to Syria’s third city Homs.
Recent months have seen Syria’s Air Force staging raids on Yabrud, the main town in the Qalamun mountain range which is home to a mixed Muslim and Christian population.
The town was once home to some 50,000 people, according to Reuters. However, in February the UNHCR estimated that some “12,800 people” fled across the border into Lebanon in just 12 days of fighting.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement supported the regular Syrian Army in Qalamun in its February operations. Hezbollah says most of the vehicles used in car bombings of its Lebanon strongholds came from Yabrud.
Source: AFP; Reuters – Photo: SANA