Syrian forces make gains in assault on rebel Homs, NGO says

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Hezbollah-backed regime forces have seized control of half of Khaldiyeh district in Homs after ousting rebels in fierce clashes in the flashpoint Syrian city, a watchdog said Saturday.

“Loyalist forces backed by fighters from Hezbollah have advanced over the last 24 hours and now control 50 percent of Khaldiyeh,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Its chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that overnight Friday, “there was continuous heavy mortar and artillery fire” and that the rebel district in the central Syrian city was still being pounded.

Rebels were putting up “fierce resistance” amid “very intense clashes.”

Militant network the Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) also reported heavy fighting in the district that has been besieged by regime forces for more than a year.

“Khaldiyeh is being targeted by an uninterrupted heavy bombardment, and on the ground there is fierce fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and regime forces backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah trying to take the district,” a statement said.

Syria’s official press said the army was now back in control of most of Khaldiyeh, while an activist on the ground told AFP that the sector was being shelled “day and night.”

The SRGC and the Observatory both said the Old City district of Homs – dubbed the “capital of the revolution” against President Bashar al-Assad – was being pummeled too.

The latest regime offensive on besieged rebel-held neighborhoods of Homs is now in its fourth week.

Government forces are seeking to secure another victory like the one in Qusayr near the border with Lebanon in June, when the Shiite militant group Hezbollah was key in retaking the strategic town.

Hezbollah, the most powerful military force in Lebanon and a staunch ally of the Assad regime in Syria, has had its military wing blacklisted by the European Union as a terrorist group.

Elsewhere, a last 30 people, including nine children, were killed in less than 24 hours in regime air raids and surface-to-surface missile strikes on the northern city of Aleppo, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

On Friday night, 18 civilians, among them three children, died as volleys of missiles struck the Bab Nairab area, it said in an updated toll. The army was targeting the headquarters of Islamist fighters “but the missiles fell dozens of meters (yards) away.”

“My whole family was wiped out, my whole family,” a boy in tears said near the rubble of his home, in a video posted by the Observatory, which relies on a vast network of activists on the ground and medics for its information.

The 28-month-old civil war in Syria has killed more than 100,000 people and left millions of refugees, without any peace settlement in sight.

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