Syrian forces backed by tanks stormed the central town of Qalaat al-Madiq and nearby villages on Wednesday after a siege lasting more than two weeks, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based monitoring group said the troops entered the town, in Hama province, just after dawn following a 17-day barrage of shelling and heavy gunfire to root out rebels.
Abu Ghazi, a local activist reached by Skype, told AFP in Beirut that members of the rebel Free Syrian Army had withdrawn from the area because of the regular army’s superior firepower.
“The rebels were engaged in hit-and-run operations and were trying to protect the local population and delay the storming of the town,” he said.
Qalaat al-Madiq is home to a historic castle that was been shelled during the fighting.
The army’s offensive follows a series of attempts by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to claim control of rebel strongholds, as it tries to crush an unprecedented revolt.
Fierce clashes were also reported on Wednesday in the southern province of Daraa.
“Intense clashes erupted at dawn between regime forces and armed rebels in the town of Bosra al-Harir after an officer warned local residents to surrender the rebels or face an assault,” the Observatory said.