Syrian regime airstrikes rain down on civilians in Homs
Government warplanes pounded a rebel-held neighbourhood in the central city of Homs yesterday, killing at least three and wounding dozens, Syrian opposition activists said, while President Bashar Assad's forces pushed ahead in Syria's offensive on the historic central town of Palmyra that is held by Isil.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and pro-government media said troops were about 9km west of Palmyra, home to some of the world's most treasured archaeological sites.
Isil overran Palmyra for a second time in December. In March last year, government forces had captured the town, ending a 10-month rule of terror by the extremists.
The Observatory said government forces and their allies now control hills that oversee three gas fields west of the town amid intense airstrikes. Syrian troops and their allies launched a wide offensive toward Palmyra in mid-January under the cover of Russian airstrikes.
The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media confirmed troops are now a few kilometres away from the town which is home to the Unesco heritage site which has suffered huge destruction at the hands of Isil.
Isil has been under pressure in Iraq and Syria over the past months and the march toward Palmyra comes days after the extremists lost the northern town of al-Bab that is now held by Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters.
SCMM said Syrian troops captured the town of Tadef from Isil on the southern edge of al-Bab, adding that military experts are now dismantling explosives and booby-traps left behind by the extremists.
Palmyra is in the central province of Homs where violence was reported yesterday in the provincial capital of the same name. Opposition activists said airstrikes on Homs' rebel-held neighbourhood of al-Waer yesterday came a day after the area was subjected to more than 40 air raids that killed and wounded dozens. The airstrikes appear to be in retaliation for militant attacks in the city on Saturday that killed a senior security officer and at least 31 others.
The Observatory and the al-Waer-based activist Bebars al-Talawy said the airstrikes killed three people.
"Today's escalation began in the early afternoon with repeated airstrikes," Mr al-Talawy said. The Observatory said al-Waer is also being subjected to shelling.
The swift, high-profile attacks against the Military Intelligence and State Security offices were claimed by the al-Qa'ida-linked insurgent coalition the Levant Liberation Committee.