DAMASCUS: Syrian military airstrikes killed at least four people early Wednesday in a rebel-held town along the Lebanese border, activists said, as pro-government forces intensify their campaign against some of the last rebel strongholds on a valuable supply line.
The shelling hit rebels on the edge of the town of Zabadani and wounded 10 people, said Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. He and a Damascus-based activist Ammar al-Hassan said the strike came during intensified shelling of the town.
Zabadani is in a part of Syria protruding into the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon. The town and nearby Madaya are on the Qalamoun frontier with Lebanon, areas that once served as opposition supply routes to nearby rural Damascus.
Syrian forces, bolstered by fighters from the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, systematically took back most other rebel-held towns along the mountainous frontier in a campaign that began in November.
On Wednesday, Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad took the town of Housh Arab, the state-run SANA news agency reported. It fell after pro-Assad forces took the nearby town of Arsal al-Ward on Tuesday.
Rebels still hold the town of Talfita in Qalamoun, but it is now surrounded by Assad-held territory.
Al-Hassan said those in Zabadani helped smuggle wounded fighters into the nearby Sunni Lebanese town of Majdal Anjar, some 15 kilometers (9 miles) away, and allowed rebels to smuggle supplies through the town.
"From the days of the peaceful protests of the revolution, it was a chief smuggling place and it remains that way," al-Hassan said.
Still, al-Hassan and another activist Akram al-Shami said while they expected Assad forces to retake Zabadani, government-backed forces face difficult conditions.
The town sits on a hill and is isolated from other parts of the Qalamoun, meaning it will be difficult amass ground troops and Syrian forces will have to rely mostly on air power, they said.
"They have to cross a lot of valleys and mountains," al-Shami said.