POSTED: 2:45 a.m. HST, Jun 29, 2013
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian warplanes and ground forces bombarded rebel-held neighborhoods in Homs on Saturday as part of the military's campaign to push opposition fighters out of the country's third largest city, activists said.
The army of President Bashar Assad has been on the offensive in recent weeks, reclaiming some of the territory it has lost to the rebels in the past year.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air strikes hit two districts in the center of the city, a rebel stronghold since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011. It said the army also fired mortar shells into the neighborhoods.
An activist from one of those neighborhoods, Khaldiya, said tanks were also involved in the bombardment, and that the military was trying to push into the area from all sides.
Shelling has been continuous since 10 a.m. in that area and in nearby Old Homs, activist Tariq Bardakhan told The Associated Press via Skype.
"Today is one of the most violent days that Homs has witnessed since the beginning of the revolution," he said.
There were no immediate reports of casualties in the fighting. Syrian state TV said the army has had "great success" in the battle for Homs after "killing many terrorists in the Khaldiya district."
Syrian state media refers to rebels fighting to oust Assad from power as "terrorists" and say they are mercenaries of the West and their Gulf Arab allies who are conspiring against Damascus.
The Observatory says more than 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict since it began as peaceful protests against the Assad regime more than two years ago. It has become an armed rebellion in the past year after the opposition supporters took up arms to fight the government crackdown.
The United Nations puts the number of civil war casualties at 93,000.
The military has gained momentum after capturing the key town of Qusair outside Homs earlier this month with the help of fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah group, capturing villages on the roads linking the capital to the border area with Jordan and Lebanon.
The rebels have also claimed some victories, marking a successful end to a two-week battle in the south Friday by capturing an army checkpoint in the city of Daraa, the provincial capital of the region that carries the same name.
Daraa is the birthplace of the uprising against Assad and rebels hope to one day launch an offensive from the area to take the capital.
The Observatory reported heavy fighting around the province on Saturday with clashes between the rebels and army troops concentrated in the town of Jassem after the army brought reinforcements.
Associated Press writer Yasmin Saker in Beirut contributed to this report.