Militants belonging to the so-called Islamic State (IS) have seized control of a key town in central Syria after violent clashes with forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad.
According to the British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the extremist group seized the town of al-Qaryatain in Homs province on Wednesday following three suicide bombs which targeted army checkpoints.
A fierce battle ensued, killing 37 soldiers belonging to the Syrian regime and 23 IS militants, said SOHR director Rami Abdel Rahman.
Al-Qaryatain, which lies southwest of the ancient town of Palmyra which was taken by IS in May, is in a strategically important location.
"The control of al-Qaryatain allows ISIS to link the areas under its control in the eastern countryside of Homs with the areas under its control in the eastern countryside of Qalamun, and allows it to transfer fighters and supplies between the two regions," Abdel Rahman told AFP.
The town is thought to be home to around 40,000 people, including Sunni Muslims and Christians, as well as thousands of people who have fled fighting in other parts of Syria.
Its takeover marked IS's first major offensive since the storming of Palmyra in May.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.