The Syrian army said on Friday it had taken control of a town northwest of Hama where the Nusra Front had been massing forces, dealing a blow to the al Qaeda-linked group that has been trying to open new fronts after losing ground to Islamic State.

The army also said it had secured nearby areas close to Hama military airport, driving back an offensive by insurgents whose advance had threatened several government loyalist towns populated mostly by minority Christians and Alawites.

The gains help shore up government control in a key corridor of territory stretching north from Damascus to the coast including the heartlands of the minority Alawite sect which forms President Bashar al-Assad’s power base. […]