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

    US Lawmakers Vow to Continue Immigrant Program for Afghan Interpreters

    Congressional inaction threatens funding for effort which began in 2008 and has allowed more than 20,000 interpreters, their family members to immigrate to US

    Brexit's Impact on Russia Stirs Concern

    Some analysts see Brexit aiding Putin's plans to destabilize European politics; others note that an economically unstable Europe is not in Moscow's interests

    US to Train Cambodian Government on Combating Cybercrime

    Concerns raised over drafting of law, as critics fear cybercrime regulations could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora