The Syrian army recaptured the strategic town of Deir Attiyeh Thursday, less than a week after losing it, taking the advantage in its bid to crush rebels just north of Damascus.
The takeover of Deir Attiyeh, on the Damascus-Homs highway, comes two weeks into an army offensive in the Qalamoun region, important to the regime for its proximity to the capital and the rebels as it serves as their rear base near the border with Lebanon.
"Our heroic army has taken total control of the town of Deir Attiyeh in Damascus province after it crushed the terrorists' last enclaves there," said state television, citing a military source.
A high-ranking security official in Damascus confirmed the report to AFP, adding that "operations to expel the terrorists from nearby areas are ongoing.”
On Friday last week, hundreds of jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and Al-Nusra Front, as well as other rebels, took control of Deir Attiyeh, according to a monitoring group.
Most of the rebels who had taken up positions in Deir Attiyeh were "crushed" and the town had been "cleansed," the security official said on condition of anonymity.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the army was now in "near-total control" of Deir Attiyeh, though gunfire could still be heard.
A security source said regime loyalists also entered the nearby town of Nabak.
"If this town is captured, all we'll have left is Yabroud and some other villages to completely block off the border with Lebanon and to stop any entrance or exit of rebels into Lebanon," said the source.
"The next phase will be to retake the south [of Syria]. The north and the east are for later," he added.
Different areas of northern and eastern Syria are under control of the rebels, jihadists and Kurds.
Also engaged in the fighting in Qalamoun is the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, which backs Assad and has sent thousands of fighters into Syria.