Setback for Syrian rebels as army takes Homs district

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

As siege for strategic central Syrian city reaches climax, opposition fears rebel fighters will not hold out much longer

Syrian troops drove insurgents from central Homs on Monday, tightening their siege on remaining rebel bastions in the strategically important city, which links Damascus to the Mediterranean heartland of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect.

The military’s gains in Khalidiya district follow a counter-offensive by Assad’s forces, which have pushed back rebels around the Syrian capital and retaken several towns near the border with Lebanon in the last few weeks.

“As of this morning the armed forces, in collaboration with the National Defence Force, took full control of Khalidiya,” an army officer said, referring to the NDF militia which has fought in the offensive, along with Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas.

“The fate of terrorists will be under our feet,” he said, claiming that all Homs will soon be “cleansed” of rebels.

Shattered, deserted ruins and weeds sprouting a metre high in the rubble-filled streets around him showed the scale of the destruction and neglect in a city which was once an industrial powerhouse in Syria.

Also badly damaged in the Khalidiya fighting was the distinctive black and white stone mosque housing the shrine of early Islamic military leader Khalid ibn al-Walid.

Some activists disputed the capture of Khalidiya district, saying heavy clashes continued on Monday morning, but conceded the army had control of almost the entire neighbourhood.

The army’s progress in Khalidiya comes a month after it launched an offensive in Homs city, building on its capture of the border towns of Qusair and Tel Kalakh, which were both used to bring the rebels arms and fighters from Lebanon.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group which supports the activists, said government troops had overrun most of the neighbourhood apart from a few pockets of resistance in its southern areas.

Another member of the opposition, who wished to remain anonymous, conceded that the battle for Khalidiya was “almost over”.

Homs has been the target of a brutal and relentless siege for around a month, with rebels losing more and more ground to the combined forces of the Syrian army, paramilitary groups sympathetic to President Bashar al-Assad and troops from the Lebanese Islamic militant group Hezbollah.

In early June, regime forces captured the key border towns of Qusair and Talkalakh in the Homs province, not far from Lebanon.

The province is Syria's largest, running from the Lebanese frontier in the west to the border with Iraq and Jordan in the east. Homs itself holds strategic value because it is a crossroads between Damascus in the north and the coastal region that is a stronghold for President Assad's Alawite sect.

Khalidiya used to have a population of about 80,000, but with residents fleeing the violence and fighting over the past two years reducing many buildings to rubble, only around 2,000 people remain there today.

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain