News / Middle East

    Showdown Looming as IS Influence Grows in Syria’s Homs Province

    FILE - In this picture released May 20, 2015, by the website of Islamic State (IS) militants, IS fighters take cover during a battle against Syrian government forces on a road between Homs and Palmyra, Syria.
    FILE - In this picture released May 20, 2015, by the website of Islamic State (IS) militants, IS fighters take cover during a battle against Syrian government forces on a road between Homs and Palmyra, Syria.

    Islamic State (IS) militants appear to have a growing influence in the central Syrian province of Homs and are likely facing a showdown with the Syrian regime, analysts say.

    With the Syrian government firmly in control of the major urban area in the province – the war ravaged city of Homs – a major battle between IS and the Syrian regime could be looming, according to analysts. IS has claimed responsibility for twin blasts in the city that killed at least 46 people and injured dozens.

    As the U.S.-Russian brokered cease-fire between government forces and opposition groups goes in effect this weekend, forces of President Bashar al-Assad can turn their focus to IS.

    “The [Syrian] regime is the strongest party in Homs now,” said Hediye Levent, a Syria-based Turkish journalist who was recently in Homs. “The cease-fire would encourage government troops to go after Daesh [IS] in eastern Homs,” said Levent.

    People inspect the site of a two bomb blasts in the mostly government-controlled city of Homs, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on Feb 21, 2016.
    People inspect the site of a two bomb blasts in the mostly government-controlled city of Homs, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on Feb 21, 2016.

    IS presence

    The city of Homs has been almost entirely controlled by the Syrian government since May 2014.

    However, the eastern part of the province is controlled by IS militants. From there, they launch attacks against government troops. IS areas of control include the ancient town of Palmyra that was taken from Assad forces in May of 2015.

    “Daesh has a solid popular support in eastern Homs,” said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. “This is why it can’t be easily uprooted from there.”

    He said IS has presented itself as the only group that can protect regional Sunni Muslims in the face of the Syrian government.

    “They [IS] targeted an Alawite-dominated neighborhood in Homs, for example, to show Sunnis that they can be relied upon,” he told VOA via phone, referring to the weekend bombings.

    The Alawites, a subsect of Shi’ite Muslims, are considered the backbone of the Syrian regime in the country’s five-year-old civil war. They mainly live in the coastal region, but also have large presence in Homs.

    FILE - A member of the Syrian pro-government forces speaks on a mobile phone as troops gather on a hilltop overlooking the town of Mahin, which is under control of the Islamic State group, in Homs province, Nov. 14, 2015.
    FILE - A member of the Syrian pro-government forces speaks on a mobile phone as troops gather on a hilltop overlooking the town of Mahin, which is under control of the Islamic State group, in Homs province, Nov. 14, 2015.

    Struggling to remain relevant

    The presence of IS militants has noticeably increased in eastern Homs, according to reports. Local activists said this is partly because of the losses elsewhere in the country as a result of Western coalition’s and Russian air campaigns against them.

    “Their control of towns like Mahin and al-Qaryatayn [in eastern Homs] has recently become tighter,” said Jassim al-Homsi, an activist from Homs who is based in Turkey.

    He told VOA in a Facebook message that IS is incapable of entering the city of Homs. Therefore it is striving to remain relevant there by carrying out suicide attacks, he said.

    “The Kurdish forces are advancing rapidly in eastern Aleppo and elsewhere,” Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory said of U.S.-backed Kurdish efforts against IS. “This might be the reason why Daesh is retreating to eastern Homs.”

    FILE - Damaged shops are seen with new doors in the old city of Homs, Syria, Dec. 8, 2015.
    FILE - Damaged shops are seen with new doors in the old city of Homs, Syria, Dec. 8, 2015.

    Strategically important

    Homs is strategically important for the Syrian regime as it connects Aleppo in the north to the capital, Damascus, in the south.

    With the help of Russian airstrikes and militants of the Lebanese Hezbollah, government troops have maintained a grip on the city of Homs, expanding their operations into the northern part of the province.

    Implementing the truce in Homs would be particularly challenging since local dynamics on frontlines change constantly, and this would affect the war on IS, analysts say.

    “The major issue [in Homs] is that alliances shift so frequently,” said journalist Levent. “One rebel group could be with the Free Syrian Army, next day it could be with al-Nusra [Front] or Daesh.”

    Homs, Syria
    Homs, Syria

    You May Like

    Multimedia Obama Calls on Americans to Help the Families of Its War Dead

    In last Memorial Day of his presidency, Obama lays wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery

    The Strife of the Party: Will Trump Permanently Alter Republicans?

    While billionaire mogul's no-holds-barred style, high-energy delivery are what rocketed him to nomination, they also have created rift between party elites and his supporters

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conferencei
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    May 30, 2016 5:11 PM
    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora