Syria army takes over Qalamoun village
DAMASCUS - Syria's army on Wednesday took over a small village in the Qalamoun area on the Lebanon border, four days after it seized the strategic rebel bastion of Yabrud, state news agency SANA said.
"Army units took over Ras al-Ain, southwest of Yabrud, killing a large number of terrorists," said SANA, using the regime's terminology to refer to rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
State television meanwhile broadcast live images from Ras al-Ain, showing village women wearing Islamic headscarves and traditional clothing dancing with joy.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the takeover, and said the army was backed by Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah and the paramilitary National Defence Forces.
The takeover of Ras al-Ain comes four days after the fall from rebel hands of Yabrud, a key rebel bastion that had come under daily shelling for more than a month.
The Observatory also said fierce clashes were raging in Rankus, a rebel village in the Qalamoun area.
A security source said the army's goal is to secure the Lebanon border by taking over Flita, Ras al-Maarra and Rankus.
That would close off rebel supply lines for weapons and fighters, but also crucial routes for food and other supplies to civilians in besieged areas of Damascus province, including Eastern Ghouta, activists say.
On Monday, the Observatory said two children had died in Eastern Ghouta because of food and medical shortages and dire living conditions caused by the regime siege.
Elsewhere, the army entered Al-Hosn in the central province of Homs and was fighting for control of the famed Krak des Chevaliers castle, a security official said.
Krak des Chevaliers, built between 1142 and 1271 and considered one of the best preserved Crusader castles in existence, has already sustained damage in Syria's three-year conflict.
"The army entered Al-Hosn and took two districts of the village. It is bombarding areas around the Krak des Chevaliers to take control of the castle," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In southern Syria, rebels took control of the central Gharaz prison in Daraa province, freeing an unspecified number of prisoners.
In the north, the army carried out fresh air strikes against several rebel areas of Aleppo, which has come under sustained aerial bombardment since December, killing hundreds of civilians, said the Observatory.
And in Hassakeh, in the northeast, 20 members of the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) were killed in fighting against Kurds, said the group.
More than 146,000 people have been killed in Syria's war, and nearly half the population has been displaced.