Syrian troops and militia push to take Sunni Homs areas

Fri Jan 25, 2013 12:41pm EST
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By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) - The Syrian army has stepped up an offensive on opposition Sunni Muslim strongholds in the central city of Homs, bringing in ground forces and loyalist militia to try to secure a major road junction, opposition sources said on Friday.

Around 15,000 Sunni civilians are trapped on the southern and western edge of the city near the intersection of Syria's main north-south and east-west arteries, crucial to let the army travel between Damascus and the Mediterranean coast, opposition campaigners in Homs said.

Rebels said they had moved into new areas of Homs this month to grab more territory, which could explain the offensive. Activists said that rebels had asked them not to report on the advances because it could provoke retaliatory strikes.

But activists in Homs said a barrage of army rocket, artillery and aerial bombardment had killed at least 120 civilians and 30 opposition fighters since Sunday.

In the south, eight members of Syria's military intelligence were killed by an Islamist militant car bomb on Thursday night near the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, opposition activists and a violence monitoring group said on Friday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the bomb was planted by Al-Nusra Front, a rebel unit fighting to oust Assad that the United States has labeled a terrorist group.

"We think the blast might have killed a colonel who has been leading the fight against rebels in the area," Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory said. The building targeted is in the town of Saasa, 14 miles (23km) from the frontier with the Golan Heights, he said.

Syrian authorities have banned most independent media, making it difficult to verify such reports on the ground.   Continued...

A Free Syrian Army fighter fires his rifle during heavy fighting in Mleha suburb of Damascus January 25, 2013. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic