Syria regime opens attack on flashpoint Homs neighbourhood
Beirut: Syrian forces on Monday fired heavy machine guns and launched at least one airstrike on a neighbourhood in the central city of Homs that rebels claimed to have seized a day earlier.
The fresh violence sent residents fleeing the area, carrying satchels and children with them.
The Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting raged in and around the Baba Amr district, a poor neighbourhood on the southwest side of Syria`s third largest city, which was a centre of opposition to President Bashar Assad early in the uprising that began two years ago.
Last year, government forces besieged Baba Amr for a month before rebel forces withdrew and the government seized control on March 1.
Hundreds of people were killed in the violence, including two foreign journalists.
It was unclear how much of the neighbourhood rebels had seized or continued to hold on Monday.
An activist in Homs reached via Skype on Monday said rebel fighters made a surprise entry into Baba Amr the previous morning and quickly took over seven government checkpoints in and near the neighbourhood, seizing a good part of the area.
Regime forces struck back on Monday, launching an airstrike, shelling the area and sending reinforcements, he said.
Another activist from Baba Amr who is now in Lebanon said rebels had taken the whole neighbourhood and were focused on holding it despite the government`s harsh counter attack.
He said it was very important to the regime militarily and as a symbol, so rebels are excited that the neighbourhood has been retaken.
The Syrian state news agency said the army had responded to "terrorists who sneaked into Baba Amr in Homs and committed crimes against people," killing a number of them. It said the army continued to pursue those remaining in the area.
The Syrian government blames the civil war on a foreign-backed conspiracy, calling the rebels "terrorists" bent on destroying the country.