Beirut - Syrian helicopters dropped explosives-packed barrels near rebel-held Yabrud on Tuesday, a monitoring group said, nearly three weeks into a major offensive targeting the strategic town near the Lebanese border.
The strikes come a day after at least 15 rebels were killed fighting in the Yabrud area, north of Damascus, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group relying on contacts inside the war-torn country.
The group supported reports from activists on the ground, who said the village of Sahel is still a contested area, a day after the army claimed it had taken it over completely.
The mixed Muslim and Christian town of Yabrud lies on the strategic highway linking Damascus to Homs, Syria's third city, and is close to the Lebanese border and crucial rebel supply lines.
The Lebanese Shi’ite movement Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside Syrian troops in the area, accuses rebels of using Yabrud as a gateway to send car bombs to target its strongholds in eastern Lebanon and southern Beirut.
Last year Hezbollah acknowledged sending fighters into Syria to support President Bashar Assad's government, exacerbating divisions in Lebanon between supporters and opponents of Damascus.
Rights groups have condemned the use of barrel bombs, saying they fail to discriminate between fighters and civilians. The government's use of barrel bombs in northern Syria has killed hundreds of people in recent months, mostly civilians.
The fresh strikes come a day after an ammunitions factory held by al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front in the northern province of Idlib exploded, killing three women who lived nearby, said the Observatory.
More than 140 000 people have been killed in Syria's war, and millions more forced to flee their homes.