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Syria: Assad troops advance in Homs - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Syrian soldiers flash the sign for victory as they drive a tank in al-Sarkha village, in the Qalamun mountains, northeast of Damascus, after taking control of the village from rebel fighters, on April 14, 2014.  (AFP Photo)

Syrian soldiers flash the sign for victory as they drive a tank in A-Sarkha village in the Qalamoun mountains, northeast of Damascus, after taking control of the village from rebel fighters, on April 14, 2014. (AFP Photo)

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Syrian government forces continued an advance to recapture rebel-held areas of Homs on Wednesday, with clashes centering on the Old City.

The advance of Syrian forces into the city, which they have been besieging for more than two years, comes shortly after government forces secured a number of victories over rebels across the country.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad claimed a “turning point” in the more than three-year war earlier this week after the government strengthened its control of territory along the Lebanese border, driving rebels out of a number of towns and cities in the Qalamoun region.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least five civilians had been killed in Homs on Wednesday in mortar strikes. The Observatory reported clashes between pro-Assad troops and rebel forces in Al-Rastan, the third-largest city in Homs Governorate, as well as mortar strikes in the surrounding villages of Ras Al-Arnab, Masa’a’da and Al-Shandakhya.

Opposition sources on the ground told Asharq Al-Awsat that Assad troops had retaken the Homs district of Al-Khalidiya, cutting off a vital supply line to rebel fighters in the city. A UN operation evacuated approximately 1,400 civilians trapped inside the besieged city in February this year, with reports that around 1,300 fighters remained behind. Opposition sources said that the evacuation of the civilians resulted in a reduction of the supply of food and medicine to the city, which in turn had affected the opposition fighters.

Syrian state television reported that the army had secured “key successes in the Old City of Homs,” adding that advancing troops had killed a number of “terrorists,” the Assad government’s term for rebel fighters.

The assault on Homs takes place one day after pro-Assad troops recaptured the Christian-majority town of Maaloula in the Qalamoun region. Local media reported that the army, backed by Hezbollah fighters, had also retaken the village of Aasal Al-Ward, strengthening the government’s grip on the strategically important border region.

The latest retreat by Syrian rebels across a number of regions may be mitigated by reports that opposition fighters are in possession of advanced US-made TOW anti-tank missiles. Videos posted on social networking websites earlier this month appear to show Syrian rebels using the US-made anti-tank rockets.

It is unclear if the rockets were supplied by Washington or a third party, as they have been exported to a number of countries.

US National Security spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said: “The United States is committed to building the capacity of the moderate opposition, including through the provision of assistance to vetted members of the moderate armed opposition. As we have said, we are not going to detail every single type of our assistance.”

Meanwhile, Jordanian warplanes hit and destroyed a number of vehicles trying to cross the border from Syria, Amman confirmed on Wednesday.

A Jordanian security source speaking to Reuters on the condition of anonymity claimed that the targets were Syrian rebels in civilian cars mounted with machine guns.

Jordanian government spokesman Mohamed Al-Momani told Reuters that Amman is “worried about cases of infiltration . . .and reports that talk about armed groups that are close to the border and the absence of security there.”

Outside Syria, Ahmed Jarba, the leader of the Syrian National Coalition—the most prominent alliance of Syrian opposition groups—met with the Chinese officials in Beijing in Wednesday, including Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Both sides agreed on the need for a political solution to the conflict in Syria, according to a statement issued by the Chinese foreign ministry.

“If the Syrian government is sincere, the National Coalition is willing to join the third round of talks in Geneva,” Jarba was quoted as saying.

The Chinese government has vetoed attempts by the US and its allies to impose sanctions on the Syrian government through the UN Security Council, but remains in contact with both parties in the conflict.