Reuters reports: Standing at the gate of a Crusader castle captured from insurgents less than 24 hours before, a Syrian army officer declared on Friday that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were now in control of the western half of Homs province.
The securing of the area follows three months of gains by government forces against opposition groups and serves two aims – cutting rebel supply routes from Lebanon, which borders Homs, and securing a highway that connects the capital to the coast.
Controlling this road is especially important for Assad as it is used to transport chemical weapon agents to be shipped out and destroyed under an international agreement.
Syrian authorities, battling a three-year-long insurgency against Assad, blame security problems for being months behind schedule, citing attempted attacks on convoys carrying chemical agents last month.
Multiple army checkpoints punctuate the 160 km (100 mile) drive from Damascus to the Crac des Chevaliers fortress – a UNESCO World Heritage site – but no sign of opposition forces.
The Syrian army convoy and journalists passed by several towns in the Qalamoun mountain range that were also recently captured by the army.
Syrian soldiers raised the national flag on the battlements of Crac des Chevaliers on Thursday after a three-month siege. Its fall followed the army’s retaking on Sunday of Yabroud – one of the last rebel-held towns along the Damascus-Homs highway. [Continue reading…]