Syrian army launches assault on Homs: state TV

The United States says neither side in the conflict has been able to deliver or hold onto significant gains

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Syrian government forced launched a major assault on the city of Homs Tuesday, Agence France-Presse quoted state television as saying.

"The Syrian army and the [pro-regime militia] National Defence Forces (NDF) have achieved key successes in the Old City of Homs," the Syrian state television said, adding that troops were advancing in several besieged neighborhoods in the area, according to AFP.

An activist on the ground and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights NGO both confirmed the report to AFP.

"They have entered into one (besieged) area, Wadi al-Sayeh, which lies between Juret al-Shiyah and the Old City," said Abu Bilal, an activist trapped inside the blockade, who spoke to AFP via the Internet.

"This is the first time the regime has entered the besieged areas since it took Khaldiyeh" in summer 2013, he added.

Activist Abu Fehmi, also trapped in the siege, said the army was "bombing very, very intensely.

"They are bombing using all kinds of weapons," he told AFP via the Internet.

Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Observatory, told AFP the army's entry into the besieged areas comes a day into a major escalation by the army.

"The military operation began yesterday after NDF forces were deployed to strengthen the regime troops' presence," Abdel Rahman told the agency.

"The army managed to take control of a handful of buildings," he said, adding that "they do not have military significance."

Activists say that some 1,300 people remain inside the besieged rebel areas, the vast majority of them fighters, after a U.N.-supervised evacuation of civilians earlier this year.

The clashes in the central Syrian city come amid reports of the renewed use of chemical weapons, specifically chlorine gas, in the central province of Hama. Opposition forces and the Damascus regime blame each other for the alleged chemical attacks that took place Friday and Saturday.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal Tuesday said the "grave news" that Damascus had carried out the two poison gas attacks was a challenge to "international will.

"These continuous violations by the Damascus regime require the international community to take firm action against the continuous defiance of international, Arab and Islamic will," Prince Saud said at a news conference in Riyadh, according to Reuters news agency.

Assad last week voiced confidence forces loyal to him were gaining the upper hand against Syrian rebels.

“This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the army’s achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the (attacks) targeting the country,” SANA quoted him saying during an address at Damascus University.

The United States on Monday took issue with Assad’s reading of developments on the ground.

“Our analysis remains what it has been, that this is a war of attrition and neither side has been able to deliver or hold onto significant gains,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, according to a statement.

Psaki said she was not “going to give ground game updates. Certainly our efforts to engage with the opposition continue.”

The U.S. official said it would be wrong to assume that the war would eventually swing Assad’s favor.

“There is broad concern and there has been for some time about his actions. The international community is focused on this, and I don’t think we’re going to make a prediction of the outcome here,” Psaki added.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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