Battles intensify in Syria’s strategic city of Homs

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Syrian troops fought with rebels in Homs on Monday in a battle seen as crucial to the government’s attempts to drive a wedge between opposition-held areas and establish links between the capital and President Bashar al-Assad’s coastal strongholds.

Video uploaded to the internet purported to show the 13th-century Khalid ibn al-Walid mosque in Homs under heavy bombardment.

Smoke could be seen billowing from the mosque’s silver-colored domes as loud explosions are heard.

A man in one of the videos is heard saying: “Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar. an attempt to destroy Khalid Ibn al-Walid mosque .They are trying to destroy it.. Where are you Arabs? We Only have you God to help us. July 8, 2013. Khalid Ibn al-Walid mosque. Allahu Akbar”.

The mosque, a prominent central landmark in the city, can be seen in further videos, with smoke rising from its domes.

A man in another video is heard saying: “Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar. Targeting Khalid Ibn al-Walid mosque. Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar. We don’t know with what they are shelling the mosque”.

Assad’s forces have been on the offensive in the central Syrian city for ten days, hitting rebel-held neighbourhoods with air strikes, mortar bombs and tanks.

In a further video a damaged building can be seen in what is said to be the Al-Khalidiyeh district of Homs, close to the Khalid ibn al-Walid mosque.

The near-constant echo of gunfire and explosions can be heard ringing through the narrow streets, and a man in the video is heard saying: “Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar. Homs.Al-Khalidiyeh district.. Heavy shelling of this district by heavy arms. Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar. Homs. Al-Khalidiyeh district.. Massive shelling of the district”.

Rebels control much of northern Syria but have been on the back foot against Assad’s army further south since it retook Qusair last month, a town near the border with Lebanon, where victory marked a change in the government’s fortunes.

At a time when the army has made gains on the battlefield, Syrian state media announced that new leaders had been appointed in the ruling Baath Party in a reshuffle that will be seen as an attempt by Assad to put a new face on the political organization that has dominated Syrian politics for more than four decades.

In Istanbul, the newly elected head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition told Reuters that the rebels’ military position was weak and proposed a truce for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins on Tuesday (July 9), to stop fighting in Homs.

There was no sign that the government in Damascus, with its forces now grinding out advances following setbacks earlier in the war, was ready to accept such a ceasefire.

Homs city was the epicenter of protests at the start of the revolt and the armed insurgency. Many districts have fallen in and out of government control during the past two years.

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