AMMAN - Syrian Sunni Muslim rebels have launched a counter-offensive to ease an army siege on their strongholds in the central city of Homs, breaking through government lines in the north and west, opposition sources said on Sunday.
Homs, 140 km north of Damascus, lies at a vital road juncture linking army bases on the coast, where a large proportion of Syrian President Bashar Assad's minority Alawite sect live, and government forces in the capital Damascus.
Both sides have taken heavy casualties since the army went on the attack 10 days ago to take the central districts of Khalidya, al-Qusour and Old Homs, where rebel brigades have been dug in for months, according to opposition military sources.
Fighters based in the provinces of Hama and Idlib advanced on Homs this weekend from the north while brigades from rural Homs attacked government positions in the western Baba Amro district. This was overrun by the army after a long siege a year ago and subsequently visited by Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Abu Imad, an opposition activist in Homs, said the sound of aerial bombardment on Baba Amro was shaking the city.