News / Middle East

    Battles Intensify in Syrian City of Homs

    In this July 7, 2013, citizen journalism image provided by Lens Young Homsi, black smoke rises from buildings damaged by Syrian government airstrikes and shelling in Homs, Syria.
    In this July 7, 2013, citizen journalism image provided by Lens Young Homsi, black smoke rises from buildings damaged by Syrian government airstrikes and shelling in Homs, Syria.
    Reuters
    Syrian troops fought with rebels in Homs on Monday in a battle seen as crucial to the government's attempts to drive a wedge between opposition-held areas and establish links between the capital and President Bashar al-Assad's coastal strongholds.
     
    Assad's forces have been on the offensive in the central Syrian city for 10 days, hitting rebel-held neighborhoods with air strikes, mortar bombs and tanks.
     
    Rebels control much of northern Syria but have been on the back foot against Assad's army further south since it retook Qusair last month, a town near the border with Lebanon, where victory marked a change in the government's fortunes.
     
    At a time when the army has made gains on the battlefield, Syrian state media announced that new leaders had been appointed in the ruling Baath Party in a reshuffle that will be seen as an attempt by Assad to put a new face on the political organization that has dominated Syrian politics for more than four decades.
     
    In Istanbul, the newly elected head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition told Reuters that the rebels' military position was weak and proposed a truce for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins on Tuesday, to stop fighting in Homs.
     
    There was no sign that the government in Damascus, with its forces now grinding out advances following setbacks earlier in the war, was ready to accept such a ceasefire.
     
    “We are staring at a real humanitarian disaster in Homs,” said Ahmad Jarba, who was elected at an opposition conference on Saturday.
     
    He said he expected advanced weapons supplied by Saudi Arabia, the main opposition backer, to reach rebel fighters soon and strengthen their position on the ground.
     
    The Syrian National Coalition, a largely exile group, has little influence on rebel units in Syria. That could change if it succeeds in facilitating the supply of sophisticated weapons to the opposition, whose fighters say they need shoulder-launched missiles to take on Assad's air force.
     
    Syria's two-year revolt began as peaceful protests but, under a fierce security force crackdown, degenerated into civil war. The conflict has killed more than 100,000 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, says.
     
    Clashes and bombardment were reported by activists in nearly every province on Monday, from the outskirts of the capital in the south to the northwestern farming province of Idlib to the eastern desert city of Deir al-Zor.
     
    Homs, 140 km (90 miles) north of Damascus, is situated at a strategic crossing linking the capital with army bases in coastal regions controlled by Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has dominated majority Sunni Syria since the 1960s.
     
    Assad is trying to cement control of this belt of territory, in a move that could drive a wedge between rebel-held areas in the north and south of the country.
     
    The United States and Sunni Gulf countries say they are backing the opposition but Assad has made significant gains in recent months with military and financial support from Russia and Shi'ite Iran.
     
    Fighters from Lebanon's Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah have also played a significant role in helping Assad recapture border towns from Sunni rebels.
     
    The Syrian state news agency SANA quoted a military source as saying that the army had killed “terrorists” - a word state media uses for insurgents - in several areas of Homs on Monday, including the Old City district of Bab Hood and some satellite towns around the country's third largest city.
     
    The Observatory said that Bab Hood and the al-Safsafa district were being hit with heavy artillery, mortar bombs and tank fire, resulting in several injuries.
     
    “Violent clashes took place on Monday morning between rebels and army forces,” the Observatory said in an email. It did not give casualty figures, which are hard to confirm due to media and security restrictions.
     
    The Observatory said that the army had retaken around a fifth of al-Khalidiya, a northern district that links the outskirts of the city with the center.
     
    A local physician working in Homs with displaced families said she had heard constant bombardment over the past few days.
     
    “What can we say? We've gotten so used to it we don't even want to think about it. God protects us,” she said over the phone on condition of anonymity from the central neighborhood on Inshaat.
     
    Video uploaded by an activist group in Homs showed smoke billowing from damaged buildings and the near-constant echo of gunfire and explosions ringing through the narrow streets.
     
    The 13th-century Khalid ibn al-Walid mosque, a prominent central landmark, could be seen in the footage. Like many of Syria's historical treasures, the mosque, with its silver-colored domes, has been badly damaged.
     
    The United Nations has expressed alarm at conditions in Homs, Syria's third largest city, saying last week that between 2,500 and 4,000 civilians were trapped there amid shortages of food, water, medicine, electricity and fuel.
     
    Homs city was the epicenter of protests at the start of the revolt and the armed insurgency. Many districts have fallen in and out of government control during the past two years.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anonymous
    July 08, 2013 2:41 PM
    What should be verified is Assads whereabouts, to be sure he is not on a Russian Warship. If Assad is on a Russian warship, then Russian votes should not count in the Security Council. Reason being, Russia is being an accomplice in the terrorist acts implemented by Assad so their votes shouldn't count. Then the International Criminal Court could have Assad up on Charges. Once Assad has charges by the ICC, he is a goner. The only reason Assad is not wanted on crimes against humanity is because of Russia objecting the security council. Is Assad guilty? Of course he is, the world knows it. Still everyday he continues to bomb civilian residential neighbourhoods killing more innocent civilians than any so called "terrorists". Assad has murdered more innocent civilians than any group in Syria. Who is the terrorist kingpin of Syria? None other than Bashar al Assad and he should be treated just like a terrorist, he is one. He should of been stopped long long long ago.
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    July 09, 2013 12:32 PM
    RE: Igor from Russia, that is not the right answer... As long as assad is indiscriminately dropping bombs in Syrian residential areas all over the country, the people of Syria deserve protection against this act. This is in fact a form of terrorism against the Syrian Nation. IF Assad could be arrested (If he is even in Syria), and was put before the people, he would have charges for killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians. He would also face charges for hundreds of thousands (If not millions) of home owners homes, businesses destroyed. Dropping bombs in civilian areas does not earn you votes, it earns you criminal charges. The opposition has not done even 1/1000th of the destruction in Syria that Assad has done.

    Assad has sicked his henchmen against the entire country of Syria. Most of the Syrian army top brass defected long ago because of these type of terrorist acts against the Syrian nation, that they would not take part in. Hats off to the Syrian people, they will now be able to defend their homeland against assads criminal aggression. Assad is only trying to protect himself, most certainly he is not protecting the country of Syria by completely destroying it. This is a crime that should not go unpunished. IF it wasn't for Russia vetoing the UN Security Council Assad WOULD be up on war crimes. The best thing the west has done so far is helped providing non-lethal aid, most importantly video cameras for everyone to record assads crimes against the nation. These videos will go down in syrian history as evidence of the crimes. Assads father killed tens of thousands of opposition years ago as well. Like father like son.
    In Response

    by: Igor from: Russia
    July 09, 2013 12:55 AM
    Assad is only a poor victim of the Western media and the terrorist groups backed by the West and some of their allies. Before the war Syria is the most peaceful and tolerant place in The Midle East where all religions and sects lived in hamony and were treated equally. The West and its allies have been instigating hatred among diferent sects and backing terrorist groups in order to oust Mr. Assad to create a pumppet one which would be ready to obey their orders. To fight against international organized groups of terrorists are extremely difficult and Syrian government are lacking of precise and advanced weapons so civilian casualty is inevitable. The solution to the war is that the West must stop providing terrorists with weapons and other nations should provide Assad with much more advanced ones to minimize civilian casualty and to completely destroy all terrorists.

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