DAMASCUS - The Syrian army on Wednesday captured a key city in the countryside of Hama province in central Syria, as part of the military campaign launched recently against the ultra-radical rebels, a war monitor reported.

The army captured the city of Kafr Naboudeh in the northern countryside of Hama province after battles with the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the umbrella group of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The UK-based watchdog group said the HTS is trying to retake the city that fell to the army following heavy shelling and airstrikes.

The city has strategic importance as it links several towns in northern Hama countryside with rebel-held areas in the southern countryside of Idlib.

A day earlier, the pro-government al-Watan newspaper reported that the Syrian army has started an operation against the rebels in the northern countryside of the central province of Hama.