AMMAN - Syrian rebels broke through government lines to ease a siege of their positions in the strategic central city of Homs on Sunday despite coming under fierce aerial bombardment, opposition campaigners said.
The communally mixed city of Sunni Muslims and Alawites, the minority sect that has dominated Syria since the 1960s, has emerged as a major battleground in the two-year-old uprising against President Bashar Assad. The bloodshed has claimed about 70,000 lives so far, according to the United Nations.
Homs, 140 km (88 miles) north of Damascus in central Syria, lies on a vital road juncture linking army bases on the Mediterranean coast, home to a large proportion of Assad's Alawites, and government forces in the capital Damascus.
In a counter-offensive, Sunni rebels punched their way through government lines in the north and west to loosen a months-long army siege on their strongholds in the center of the Syria's third biggest city, opposition sources said.
Insurgents 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 its Baba Amro district.