Assad’s forces battle to tighten control of central Syria

July 1, 2013

AMMAN | President Bashar al-Assad’s forces pounded Sunni Muslim rebels in the city of Homs with artillery and from the air on Sunday, the second day of their offensive in central Syria, activists said.

They said rebels defending the old center of Homs and five adjacent Sunni districts had largely repelled a ground attack on Saturday by Assad’s forces, backed by guerrillas from the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah, but reported clashes and deaths within the city on Sunday.

Mohammad Mroueh, a member of the opposition “Homs Crisis Cell” said at least 25 loyalist troops including four Hezbollah fighters had been killed in Homs in the previous 24 hours. Such reports are difficult to verify in Syria, where independent media cannot usually report freely.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition said in a statement that it feared that Assad’s forces will use chemical weapons on the city “after the regime’s campaign on Homs failed to achieve any important results.”

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