Syria's army battled rebels for control of the ancient Christian town of Maalula near Damascus on Saturday, a security official told AFP, a week after opposition fighters took the area.
"The army is continuing its mission in Maalula. There are still some terrorist pockets in the north of the town, in the Al-Safir hotel and its surroundings, as well as in the hills surrounding the town," the official from the security services said on condition of anonymity.
President Bashar Assad's regime has consistently labelled opponents as "terrorists" since the outbreak of the revolt in March 2011 that has killed more than 110,000 people.
"The army has made some progress," the official added, saying the battle for Maalula has been hard because the army did not want to bomb the town.
Picturesque Maalula is home to ancient churches and is nestled under a large cliff, whose summit is controlled by the rebels, making it difficult for the army to advance.
Last week, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and residents said rebel forces, including jihadists linked to Al-Qaida, had overrun the town.
On Tuesday, rebels announced they would withdraw from Maalula, but that this was "conditional" on pro-regime forces not taking their place.
The town, home to about 5,000 people, is strategically important for rebels, who are trying to tighten their grip on Damascus and already have bases circling the capital.
Civilians started fleeing the town nearly two weeks ago for Damascus and the neighbouring Sunni village of Ain al-Tine, fearing an imminent escalation.
© AFP 2013