Standing at the gate of a Crusader castle captured from insurgents less than 24 hours before, a Syrian army officer declared on Friday that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were now in control of the western half of Homs province.

The securing of the area follows three months of gains by government forces against opposition groups and serves two aims – cutting rebel supply routes from Lebanon, which borders Homs, and securing a highway that connects the capital to the coast.

Controlling this road is especially important for Assad as it is used to transport chemical weapon agents to be shipped out and destroyed under an international agreement. […]