Monday 18 December 2017

Battle for Homs as loyalists attempt to divide Syrian rebels

Destroyed buildings are seen on a deserted street in Homs
Destroyed buildings are seen on a deserted street in Homs

Syrian forces continued to battle with rebel groups in Syria’s central city of Homs today as the government attempts to divide the insurgents.

Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been on the offensive in Homs for ten days, hitting neighbourhoods over-run by rebels in central parts of the city with air strikes, mortar bombs and tanks.

Rebels control much of northern Syria but have been on the back foot against Assad's army since it retook Qusair last month where victory marked a change in the government's fortunes.

The newly elected head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition told Reuters that the rebel's military position was weak and proposed a truce for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins on Tuesday, to stop fighting in Homs.

There was no sign that the government in Damascus, with its forces now grinding out advances following setbacks earlier in the war, was ready to accept such a ceasefire.

"We are staring at a real humanitarian disaster in Homs," said Ahmad Jarba, who was elected on Saturday.

He said he expected advanced weapons supplied by Saudi Arabia, the main opposition backer, to reach rebel fighters soon and strengthen their position on the ground.

The Syrian National Coalition, a largely exile group, has little influence on rebel units on the ground in Syria. That could change if it succeeds in facilitating the supply of sophisticated weapons to the opposition, whose fighters say they need shoulder-launched missiles to take on Assad's air force.

Syria's two-year revolt began as peaceful protests but, under a fierce security force crackdown, degenerated into civil war. The conflict has killed more than 100,000 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, says.

Homs, north of Damascus, is situated at a strategic crossing linking the capital with army bases in coastal regions controlled by Assad's Alawite sect. Assad is trying to cement control of this belt of territory, a move which could sever the north and south of the country, areas where rebels have a foothold.

The United States and Sunni Gulf countries say they are backing the opposition but Assad has made significant gains in recent months with military and financial support from Russia and Shi'ite Iran.

Fighters from Lebanon's Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah have also played a significant role in helping Assad recapture border towns from Sunni rebels.


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