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 Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More