News / Middle East

Fierce Fighting Batters Syria's Homs

AP-authenticated citizen journalist photo shows Syrians inspecting rubble of damaged buildings due to government airstrike and shelling, al-Hamidiyyeh district, Homs, July 3, 2013.
AP-authenticated citizen journalist photo shows Syrians inspecting rubble of damaged buildings due to government airstrike and shelling, al-Hamidiyyeh district, Homs, July 3, 2013.
Reuters
Syrian state forces backed by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah hammered the central city of Homs on Friday, activists said, sparking concern from United Nations officials over thousands of civilians trapped in the city.
 
President Bashar al-Assad's forces have been using heavy air raids and artillery strikes to push their offensive around the capital and the strategically-located Homs, which spans central Syria's eastern and western international borders.
 
Near Damascus, a well-known activist known as Mohammed Moaz died of injuries from shelling in a rebel-held suburb on Friday.
 
Moaz, whose real name was Fedaa al-Baali, was one of the first activists to let himself be filmed and recorded to try to give more credibility to his reports. He had suffered previous injuries while filming rebel operations around the capital.
 
He was eventually identified by security forces and they tried to blackmail him into silence by kidnapping his father. His father was let go though he did not back down, but his brother was killed last year.
 
Syria's war has killed more than 100,000 people, the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says. The two-year revolt began as peaceful protests but, under a fierce security force crackdown, it degenerated into civil war.
 
Homs city was the epicenter of the insurgency, and is the focal point of a new push by Assad's forces.
 
Assad is trying to cement control of a belt of territory between his seat of power in Damascus and his stronghold on Syria's Mediterranean coast, a move which could sever the north and south of the country where rebels have a foothold.
 
Video uploaded by activist groups in Homs showed fires blazing from destroyed buildings and grey smoke rolling down streets torn up by the clashes. Fighters fired rocket-propelled grenades and machineguns from battered apartment blocks.
 
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was "extremely concerned" about the offensive, launched by Assad's forces on June 28.
 
"The number of civilians currently trapped due to the heavy fighting in and around Homs is believed to be between 2,500 and 4,000 people," chief spokesman Rupert Colville said.
 
"We call upon all parties to respect their obligations under international law, avoid civilian casualties and allow trapped civilians to leave without fear of persecution or violence."
 
Colville also called on fighters to provide unfettered access to humanitarian groups in the area. Activists in Homs say there are severe shortages of food, water, medicine, electricity and fuel in the besieged areas.
 
Some opposition sources reported small advances for Assad's forces, but others said the street-by-street battles meant the overall balance of power was unchanged after more than a week.
 
Castle under siege

Outside the city, Assad's forces fired on the nearby town of al-Hosn, a hillside rebel stronghold famous for its ancient crusader fortress, the Crac des Chevaliers. Rebels have been holed up for months in the massive castle, once a perfectly preserved UNESCO World Heritage site.
 
Residents nearby said pro-Assad militias set fire to the forests surrounding the town, hoping to destroy potential cover for fighters trying to bring in supplies.
 
According to residents, pro-Assad militias and Hezbollah operatives are leading the fight around Homs, which is likely to deepen the already deadly sectarian tensions in the area.
 
Syria's Sunni Muslim population has led the revolt, while minorities have generally stood behind Assad-fearing Islamist groups that have joined the rebels. Assad himself is from the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
 
The intervention of Hezbollah, a Shi'ite group funded by Iran, has intensified regional Sunni-Shi'ite tensions already running high due to the growing participation of Sunni radical militants with the opposition.
 
Many have warned that the fall of Homs city would give Assad de facto control of central Syria and are urging rebels from other parts of the country to send arms and reinforcements.
 
But some rebels inside the city expressed confidence that rebel strongholds north of Homs would provide enough cover to prevent a total loss of control. That could mean months more of a bloody stalemate that has already leveled much of Homs, as well as other historic cities like northern Aleppo.
 
"We have been preparing for the regime to do this for months, and we have a plan ready when the time is right," said one rebel inside Homs's besieged Old City.
 
"Homs will not fall. Victory for either side right now though, that also seems unlikely."

You May Like

Video Obama to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President says US will take leadership role for a global response to deadly Ebola virus that is ravaging West Africa More

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Spacei
X
September 17, 2014 4:20 AM
The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid