Syrian troops tighten grip on rebel stronghold

Indo Asian News Service

Damascus, March 3 (IANS) Syrian troops Monday recaptured areas around a key contested town north of the capital Damascus, media reported.

The Syrian forces wrested back control over the town of Sahel and the Rima orchards in the surrounding areas of Yabroud, a key rebel stronghold north of Damascus, where the Syrian troops have started a wide-scale offensive to recapture the area deemed important to deter the flow of rebels and weapons from Lebanon into Syria and vice-versa, Xinhua reported citing the official news agency SANA.

A military source told Xinhua Monday that the Syrian army has almost fully tightened its grip on the surroundings of Yabroud and will start storming the area soon.

Meanwhile, the pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV said rebels' bodies were seen in the areas that have been retaken by the regular troops.

In mid-February, the army started a major offensive to recapture Yabroud by securing its surroundings before pressing into the town itself.

Yabroud, some 80 km north of Damascus, is deemed an important stronghold of armed rebels due to its location on the slope of the mountainous Qalamoun region and proximity to the Lebanese town of Ersal where the rebels get weapons and medical treatment.

Also, the town's rugged terrain and ancient caves give them shelter from government air raids.

Military experts said that by recapturing Yabroud, the government forces can secure the international road connecting Damascus to the central province of Homs and some provinces on the Mediterranean coast and could deter the flow of car bombs into neighbouring Lebanon.

Yabroud's open road to Ersal has facilitated the transport of booby-trapped cars into the Syrian neighbour, whose capital Beirut has been rocked recently by a series of suicide car bombings.

The attacks targeted some strongholds of Lebanon's Shia Hezbollah militant group, whose fighters are battling Al Qaeda-linked rebels alongside the Syrian troops in the central part of the country.