Syria military forces entered Yabroud, the last bastion the rebels hold close to the Lebanon border north of the capital of Damascus. The soldiers advanced on Saturday towards the main street of the town, said a Lebanese television station carrying the news.
The station, based in Beirut, broadcast footage showing the soldiers charging towards the arched entrance to the town. The arch has a sign that says Welcome to Yabroud. As the soldiers could be seen advancing, gunfire could be heard in the background.
President Bashar al-Assad would be helped by capturing Yabroud as it would choke off the rebel supply line that is cross-border in that area. The town is located close to the main highway that links Damascus with the former hub of commerce Aleppo to the north and to the Mediterranean toward the west, where the minority community of the Alawite is concentrated. Assad is Alawite.
The monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced that the government of Syria was hitting some areas of Yabroud very hard with shelling near the outskirts and improvised barrel bombs.
The Observatory, which is anti-Assad, said fighting was taking place between the forces from the Syria military supported by Hezbollah the Shi’ite Lebanese militant group and different rebel factions that includes Nusra Front, the official al Qaeda branch inside Syria and the ISIL the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which is a splinter group of al Qaeda.
Thousands of residents fled the town of Yabroud, which has a population of between 40,000 and 50,000 and is about 40 miles to the north of Damascus.
The town had been bombed as well as shelled in February ahead of the latest offensive by the government.
The government has made gains little by little along the important highway and around the areas of Aleppo and Damascus over the past few months, regaining control of the conflict that entered the start of its fourth year earlier in March.
Late Friday a senior Nusra Front commander was killed near Yabroud in the shelling with the Hezbollah and army forces.