Damascus: Syria’s army seized the rebel-held town of Rankus on Wednesday, state media reported citing a military source, as the regime extends its control over the strategic Qalamun region.

“Units of the Syrian army have now accomplished their operation in the Rankus area and restored security and stability after eliminating a large number of terrorists,” state media said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, earlier confirmed that “the army entered the area and is engaged in fierce fighting and heavy shelling”.

The group said 28 rebels had been killed in the Qalamun area as well as in Eastern Ghouta, elsewhere in Damascus province, in fighting between Tuesday and Wednesday. Rankus is about 45 kilometres north of Damascus and was home to 20,000 people before the conflict in Syria began in March 2011.

Syrian troops backed by pro-regime militiamen and Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement have captured most of the Qalamun region, which lies along the border with Lebanon.

The key highway between Damascus and Homs also runs through the region.

Last month, the regime dealt a major blow to the opposition by seizing its last key bastion in the region, the town of Yabroud.

The rebels still control a few smaller villages in the region, but have seen their supply lines across the border with Lebanon largely severed.