DAMASCUS, March 14 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian army troops on Friday made an important progress in a key contested town north of the capital Damascus, local media reported.
The troops advanced in the orchards of the key town of Yabroud, tightening its control over the eastern entrance and the northeastern edge of the town, which is on the borders with Lebanon.
Citing a military source, the report said the army has advanced amid a collapse in the ranks of the rebels.
Meanwhile, the pan-Arab al-Mayadeen said the Syrian troops are now working on besieging the town and pressing into the eastern parts of it.
It said the fighters of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front have erected roadblocks at the town of Flaita, west of Yabroud and near the Lebanese borders, to prevent the rebel fighters from abandoning their positions in Yabroud following the wide-scale offensive of the Syrian army.
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 as 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 neighboring Lebanon.
Yabroud's open road to Ersal has facilitated the transport of booby-trapped cars into the Syrian neighbor, whose capital Beirut has been rocked recently by a series of suicide car bombings.
The attacks targeted some strongholds of Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah militant group, whose fighters are battling al-Qaida- linked rebels alongside the Syrian troops in the central part of the country.