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Thursday, October 20, 2016

By Nabih Bulos and Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times

BEIRUT — The Syrian military on Thursday captured a historic Crusader castle that had long been a highly symbolic rebel bastion, the latest victory in an ongoing offensive along the Lebanese border, according to government and opposition accounts.

Krak des Chevaliers, a colossal hilltop fortress dating to the 12th century named after a medieval Crusader order, was overrun after a series of fierce battles in the nearby town of Hossen that concluded with government troops hoisting a Syrian flag above the celebrated citadel.

The image of the national colors rising above the renowned monument, a moment captured on video broadcast on Syrian state television, was a dramatic indication of how pro-government forces have gained ground in recent months against deeply divided rebels fighting to oust President Bashar Assad.

“The Syrian Arab Army raises the flag of the nation over the Krak des Chevaliers castle in Homs province after crushing the terrorists who were holed up there,” triumphant state television declared, echoing the official description of rebels as “terrorists.”

As the Syrian civil war this month entered its fourth year, the government boasted of several important advances. On Sunday, the military overran the longtime rebel stronghold of Yabroud, not far from the Lebanese border about 70 miles southeast of Krak des Chevaliers.

Sealing rebel supply and logistics lines from neighboring Lebanon has long been a major focus of the Syrian military. The capture of the castle and nearby towns, along with earlier military advances in the border zone, have curbed the rebels’ ability to ferry in supplies and fresh fighters from Lebanon.

Krak des Chevaliers, visible from the main highway from Homs city to the Mediterranean coast, had long been a high-profile symbol of opposition strength in strategic western Homs province, the gateway to central and northern Syria from Damascus, the capital.