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Reports: Syrian Troops, Hezbollah Consolidate Gains in Homs

Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad are seen at al Khaldia neighborhood in Homs city, in this handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA, July 27, 2013.
Syrian government forces backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters are reported to be consolidating their control over a key rebel district in the strategic central city of Homs.

State-run television broadcast live coverage Sunday from Khaldiyeh, an embattled northern neighborhood in Homs, saying the army now controlled most of the area. Video showed extensive destruction, including rubble-strewn streets and bodies it says were of fighters.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that "the army and Hezbollah control a major part of Khaldiyeh after having gained ground over the past 24 hours."

The opposition Syrian National Coalition dismissed the reported military advances in Khaldiyeh as "fictitious victories," accusing the government of having extensively bombed the area. The SNC said what it called a "tactical withdrawal" by Free Syrian Army fighters is "not indicative of [President Bashar] al-Assad’s ability to maintain control over the area."

On Saturday, pro-government forces captured the ancient Khalid Ibn al-Walid Mosque in Khaldiyeh, which rebels had controlled for more than a year.

The mosque was a focal point of the anti-government uprising and had been the launch pad for several anti-government demonstrations.

Syrian rebels have controlled much of Homs since the civil war broke out more than two years ago. The main highway from Damascus to the north and Mediterranean coast runs through the city, which is also close to the Lebanese border.

Meanwhile, the SNC, Syria's main exiled opposition group, condemned the reported execution of scores of government soldiers by rebels in a northern Syrian village several days ago and said it was forming a commission of inquiry to investigate the incident.

Syrian activists say rebels killed 150 government soldiers, some after they surrendered, last week in the village of Khan al-Assal, outside Aleppo, the country's largest city.

The SNC said initial reports showed "armed groups" not affiliated with the main rebel coalition were involved. It did not elaborate, but the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front says its fighters participated in the battle.