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Syrian regime recaptures rebel district of Homs

Activists on the ground say government troops now control 90 per cent of the Khaldiyeh neighbourhood.

Syrian government forces patrol in the Khaldiyeh neighbourhood of Homs, which they have recaptured.
Syrian government forces patrol in the Khaldiyeh neighbourhood of Homs, which they have recaptured.

DAMASCUS // The Syrian regime on Monday said the army recaptured a rebel district of Homs, a key symbol of the country's revolt, after a relentless one-month offensive.

Activists on the ground said government troops now controlled 90 per cent of the Khaldiyeh neighbourhood.

The takeover is the second military success for president Bashar Al Assad's regime in Homs province in two months, after troops took over the former rebel bastion of Qusayr in June.

The full recapture of Homs, dubbed by rebels "the capital of the revolution," would be a strategic win for the regime.

The city straddles a route linking Damascus to the Mediterranean coast and the Alawite hinterland of Mr Assad's minority community.

"The armed forces have restored security and stability across the neighbourhood of Khaldiyeh," one of the largest rebel bastions in the central city, state television said.

The army, backed by fighters from Lebanon's powerful Hizbollah militant group, launched the assault on Khaldiyeh a month ago bolstered by the capture in June, also with Hizbollah help, of the Homs province town of Qusayr.

Several neighbourhoods in the Old City remain in rebel hands, but troops, who have a foothold in that part of town too, appear determined to dislodge them.

"The capture of Khaldiyeh will make it easier (for the army) to retake the Old City and other (rebel) districts like Qussur," Homs-based activist Mahmud Al Lowz told AFP via the internet.

"If Homs city falls, the north of Syria will be cut off from the south," he added.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fierce early morning battles preceded the recapture of Khaldiyeh, calling the fighting "the most violent since the offensive was launched."

The neighbourhood had endured near-daily air and artillery bombardments and a suffocating siege that prevented not only weapons but also food and medical supplies from being brought in.

Meanwhile yesterday the main Syrian political opposition formed a commission to investigate the killing of dozens of people in a Syrian town earlier this week, including troops loyal to Mr Assad. Initial reports indicate the involvement of rebels not affiliated with the Syrian Military Council, the umbrella group of fighters battling to topple Mr Assad, the opposition Syrian National Coalition said. "All those involved in such crimes will be held accountable," the coalition said in a statement on its Facebook page. Pro-Assad media have said 123 people, including military personnel, were killed by an Al Qaeda-linked group on July 27 in the town of Khan Al-Asal in Aleppo province.

The UN says the 28-month-old civil war in Syria has killed more than 100,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes.


* Agence France Presse and Bloomberg