Assad's forces seize Homs district from rebels: activists

Sat Dec 29, 2012 7:39am EST
 

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian government forces have pushed rebels from a district in Homs after several days of fierce fighting in the strategically important city, opposition activists said on Saturday.

The army moved into Deir Ba'alba, a neighborhood on the northeastern edge of Homs, they said, leaving the rebels controlling just the central neighborhoods around the old city and the district of Khalidiyah, immediately to the north.

Homs, in central Syria, was the scene earlier this year of some of the heaviest fighting in the 21-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad which has killed at least 45,000 people, according to activist tallies.

On the junction of roads linking Assad's power base in Damascus to the heartlands of his Alawite minority in the port city of Tartous and Latakia province, Homs has strategic value in his battle with the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels.

There were unconfirmed reports that dozens of fighters had been killed in the battle for Deir Ba'alba, the director of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdelrahman, said.

Rebels have been gaining ground in recent months, particularly in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, and launched an offensive in the central Hama province which would extend their control south towards Homs and Damascus.

But an activist in Hama province said on Saturday that the army had reinforced its positions in the town of Morek, which lies on the main north-south highway linking Damascus to Aleppo, to push back rebels who were running low on ammunition.

A rebel attack on the military base of Wadi Deif, further north on the same highway, had also slowed as rebels struggled to maintain supplies, the activist who used the name Ali al-Idlibi told Reuters by Skype.

He also said Assad's forces had bombarded the provincial town of Karnaz in Hama on Saturday, killing 10 people. Other activists said 12 people were wounded, with no fatalities. It is not possible to verify reports from Syria because authorities restrict media operations in the country.   Continued...

 
View of damaged buildings are seen in Al-khalidiya neighbourhood of Homs December 20, 2012. Picture taken December 20, 2012. REUTERS/Thair Al-Khalidieh/Shaam News Network/Handout