WESTERN DUMAYNA, Syria: Syrian troops captured three villages in the strategic Qusayr area of Homs province on Monday, allowing them to cut supply lines to rebels inside Qusayr town, a military officer told AFP.
"The attack on the villages of Western Dumayna, Haidariyeh and Esh al-Warwar began this morning," the lieutenant colonel said on condition of anonymity.
"The fighting lasted for three hours until we established control over these villages, which are considered strategic because they lie on the road between the cities of Homs and Qusayr and will allow us to block supplies to the militants in Qusayr," he said.
Western Dumayna is some eight kilometres (five miles) north of the rebel-held town of Qusayr, which has been at the centre of fierce battles between opposition forces and the Syrian military, backed by pro-Damascus group Hezbollah.
Last week, activists said the town of Qusayr was surrounded by regime forces on three sides and that some 25,000 residents were still inside.
A military source on Friday said leaflets were dropped over the town warning residents to leave, but activists denied the claim and said there was no safe passage out.
On Monday, the daily Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the Syrian regime, said the Syria military had halted operations in the area to allow civilians to leave safely.
But residents and activists around the town said they could still hear fighting and shelling in the vicinity.
The area has been a strategic boon to the rebels, who used it as a base from which to block the main road from Damascus to the coast, impeding military movement and supply chains.
It is also important because of its proximity to Lebanon.
The regime has made recapturing it a key objective. President Bashar al-Assad reportedly said last month that fighting in the area was the "main battle" his troops were waging.
Activists say regime forces there are backed by fighters from Hezbollah, as well as members of the National Defence Force, a pro-regime militia.