Damascus: Government troops captured a neighbourhood on Friday in the embattled city of Homs that has been a rebel stronghold since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, state media said, dealing another blow to beleaguered opposition forces in central Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group, however, denied that regime forces had seized all of the district of Khaldiyeh, saying there was still scattered fighting in southern areas of the neighbourhood.
Government troops launched a sweeping offencive to retake rebel-held areas of Homs, Syria`s third-largest city, a month ago. Even if small pockets of resistance remain, the fall of Khaldiyeh to regime troops appeared to be a foregone conclusion, and its capture would be the second major setback to rebels in central Syria in as many months.
In early June, regime forces captured the strategic town of Qusair in Homs province near the border with Lebanon. Troops have also captured the town of Talkalakh, another border town in the province.
The province of Homs is Syria`s largest, and runs from the Lebanese frontier in the west all the way to the border with Iraq and Jordan in the east. The city of Homs holds strategic value because it serves as a crossroads: the main highway from Damascus to the north as well as the coastal region, which is a stronghold of President Bashar Assad`s Alawite sect, runs through Homs.
In a report today, Syrian state TV said "the Syrian army has restored security and stability in the whole neighbourhood of Khaldiyeh in Homs."
Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said government troops have captured most of the neighbourhood apart from some fighting on its southern areas.
Another opposition activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the battle in Khaldiyeh "is almost over." He acknowledged that troops are almost in full control of the area.