DAMASCUS , Syria, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- The strategic Syrian town of al-Qaryatain was captured Thursday from pro-government forces by Islamic State fighters, a monitoring group said.
"IS seized al-Qaryatain town in the southeastern countryside of Homs after violent clashes with pro-regime forces and loyalist fighters. The control of al-Qaryatain allows IS to link the areas under its control in the eastern countryside of Homs (province) with the areas under its control in the eastern countryside of Qalamun, and allows it to transfer fighters and supplies between the two regions," said Abdel Rahman of the British-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
He added 37 pro-government forces were killed, as were 23 IS militants. The battle began with suicide bombings at checkpoints of the town of about 40,000; the population of the community, a mix of Sunni Muslims and Christians, has been reduced by the flight of refugees.
The capture of al-Qaryatain indicates IS can move troops and supplies across central Syria without interference, from Palmyra in the east and southwestward to al-Qaryatain.
Over 230,000 people have died since a war against the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad began in 2011, with many opposition groups now fighting each other.