Syrian government forces backed by Lebanese Hezbollah forces have been consolidating their control over a key rebel district of Syria’s third city Homs, a watchdog and state media said.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said troops as of Sunday controlled most of Khaldiyeh, an embattled northern neighbourhood in Homs.
State-run Syrian TV broadcast live coverage from Khaldiyeh – video showed extensive destruction. Activists said most of the buildings in the mainly residential district were no longer fit to live in.
The military moves came a day after they expelled rebels from a 13th century landmark mosque in Khaldiyeh they controlled for more than a year.
After capturing the strategic town of Qusair near the Lebanon border last month, government troops launched an offensive on rebel-held areas in Homs, late in June. They have been pushing into Khaldiyeh and other neighbourhoods in the Old City that have been under opposition control since 2011.
An unidentified Syrian army commander standing before a destroyed building in Khaldiyeh told an embedded state TV reporter that the military expected to “liberate” the last part of Khaldiyeh within the next two days.
In addition to its symbolic value, Homs is a geographic lynchpin in Syria.
The main highway from Damascus to the north and the coast, a stronghold of President Bashar Assad’s Alawite sect, runs through Homs.
Also on Sunday, Syria’s main exiled opposition group condemned the reported execution of scores of government soldiers by rebels in a northern Syrian village several days ago.
The Syrian National Coalition made up of exiled opposition leaders said in a statement that it was forming a commission of inquiry to investigate the incident in Khan al-Assal.
Elsewhere, SOHR said the death toll from nearly two weeks of clashes between al-Qaeda-linked fighters and Kurdish rebels in northeastern Syria stands at 120.
SOHR monitors the Syrian war through a network of activists on the ground.