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

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid