BEIRUT – Government troops launched a series of attacks in central Syria Saturday, striking with artillery, tanks and warplanes in a drive to capture rebel-held neighborhoods in the country’s third-largest city of Homs, activists said.
The army of President Bashar Assad has been on the offensive in Homs province in recent weeks, reclaiming some of the territory it has lost to the rebels since Syria’s crisis began 27 months ago.
The military, building on its capture of the strategic town of Qusair between the Lebanese border and Homs at the beginning of this month, has overrun a number of nearby villages. It also has hammered the center of the city, a rebel stronghold since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011.
Homs, a city of about 1 million, has shown great sympathy for the opposition since the early days of the uprising. A month after it started, protesters carried mattresses, food and water to the main Clock Square, hoping to emulate Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt’s revolt that overthrew Hosni Mubarak.
Security forces quickly raided the encampment, shooting at protesters and chasing them through the streets. The onslaught only boosted the intensity of the protests, fueling a revolt toward the Assad dynasty that has ruled since 1970.
Several activists in the city said the regime began bringing in reinforcements since last week, apparently in preparation for the attack.