Syrian Rebels in Homs (R370).
(photo credit: Yazen Homsy/Reuters)
BEIRUT - Syrian troops drove insurgents from central Homs on
Monday, tightening their siege on remaining rebel bastions in the city, which
links Damascus to the Mediterranean heartland of President Bashar Assad's
The military's gains in Khalidiya district follow a
counter-offensive by Assad's forces, which have pushed back rebels around the
Syrian capital and retaken several towns and villages near the border with
Lebanon in the last few weeks.
"As of this morning the armed forces, in
collaboration with the National Defence Force, took full control of Khalidiya,"
an army officer said, referring to the NDF militia which has fought in the
offensive, along with Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas.
The officer was
speaking to Syrian television in a live broadcast from Khalidiya. Shattered,
deserted ruins and weeds sprouting a metre (yard) high in the rubble-filled
streets around him showed the scale of the destruction and neglect in a city
which was once an industrial powerhouse in Syria.
Also badly damaged in
the Khalidiya fighting was the distinctive black and white stone mosque housing
the shrine of early Islamic military leader Khalid ibn al-Walid.
activists disputed the capture of Khalidiya district, saying heavy clashes
continued on Monday morning, but conceded that army had control of almost the
The army's progress in Khalidiya comes a month
after it launched an offensive in Homs city, building on its capture of the
border towns of Qusair and Tel Kalakh, which were both used to bring rebel arms
and fighters into Syria from Lebanon.ALEPPO CLASHES
At least 100,000
people have been killed in the Syrian conflict, which started with peaceful
protests against Assad's rule in March 2011 but gradually descended into civil
war after a military crackdown on the demonstrations.
Nearly two million
refugees have fled the sectarian-tinged struggle between mainly Sunni Muslim
rebels and Assad's Alawite supporters, whose minority sect is a branch of
Regional Sunni powers Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have
backed the rebels, while Shi'ite Iran and Hezbollah have given military support
to the Syrian authorities.
Assad has also sent reinforcements to the
northern city of Aleppo, much of which has been in rebel hands for a
A coalition of Islamist rebels announced a campaign dubbed
"Amputation of the Infidels" against Assad's forces in Aleppo's western
districts of Lairamun, Dahr Abed Rebbo and Zahraa.
The Syrian Observatory
for Human Rights said an overnight attack by the Islamists had killed eight
members of the armed forces. Another five defected, according to the
British-based monitoring group which has a network of sources in
In the town of Tal Hasel, southeast of Aleppo, Kurdish fighters
clashed with Islamists from the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, the Observatory
said. A Kurdish commander was killed, as well as three Nusra
Kurdish and Nusra fighters have also been battling further
east, near the Ras al-Ain border crossing with Turkey.