Syria army retakes key Homs rebel district

Updated 31 July 2013

Syria army retakes key Homs rebel district

DAMASCUS: The Syrian regime on Monday said the army recaptured a rebel district of Homs, a key symbol of the country’s revolt, after a relentless one-month offensive.
Activists on the ground told AFP government troops now controlled 90 percent of Khaldiyeh neighborhood.
The takeover is the second military success for President Bashar Assad’s regime in Homs province in two months, after troops took over the former rebel bastion of Qusayr in June.
The full recapture of Homs, dubbed by rebels “the capital of the revolution,” would be a strategic win for the regime.
The city straddles a route linking Damascus to the Mediterranean coast and the Alawite hinterland of Assad’s minority community.
“The armed forces have restored security and stability across the neighborhood of Khaldiyeh,” one of the largest rebel bastions in the central city, state television said.
“Collapse of the terrorists’ ‘citadel’ in Khaldiyeh — we’re going from victory to victory,” the broadcaster crowed.
The army, backed by fighters from Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah militant group, launched the assault on Khaldiyeh a month ago bolstered by the capture in June, also with Hezbollah help, of the Homs province town of Qusayr.
Several neighborhoods in the Old City remain in rebel hands, but troops, who have a foothold in that part of town too, appear determined to dislodge them.
“The capture of Khaldiyeh will make it easier (for the army) to retake the Old City and other (rebel) districts like Qussur,” Homs-based activist Mahmud Al-Lowz told AFP via the Internet.
“If Homs city falls, the north of Syria will be cut off from the south,” he added.
An army officer, interview on state television, said regime forces hope to “cleanse the whole of Syria” after the Khaldiyeh victory.
“We cleansed the neighborhood of terrorists this morning,” said the unnamed officer. “We will continue to chase the terrorists from all other areas of Homs.”
“We dedicate this victory to Bashar Assad,” he added, standing next to a pile of rubble.
State television also showed a group of soldiers chanting “we sacrifice our soul and our blood for you, O Bashar.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fierce early morning battles preceded the recapture of Khaldiyeh, calling the fighting “the most violent since the offensive was launched.”
The neighborhood had endured near-daily air and artillery bombardments and a suffocating siege that prevented not only weapons but also food and medical supplies from being brought in.
“The (rebel) retreat is the result of the heavy air and artillery bombardment,” Homs-based activist Abu Rami told AFP by Internet, adding that the army now controls “90 percent” of Khaldiyeh.
“Khaldiyeh may have fallen, but Homs has not.
“We have lost this round, but we haven’t lost the war... We hold the international community and the Syrian opposition responsible for what is happening in Homs,” he said.
It is the most important military victory for the regime in Homs since the March 2012 capture of Baba Amr district, another symbol of the rebellion, following an offensive that killed hundreds.
As the army advanced in Khaldiyeh, warplanes struck the Bab Hud neighborhood of the Old City, just to the south, the Britain-based Observatory said.
The opposition National Coalition has dismissed the army’s advances in Khaldiyeh as “fictitious victories” and accused the regime of dumping “tons of bombs” on the area.
The army on Saturday seized the historic Khaled Bin Walid Mosque, which was a focal point of the uprising now in its third year.
Facing army advances in Homs, the rebels last week seized after months of fighting the key Khan Al-Assal bastion in the northern province of Aleppo, while making advances in the southern province of Daraa near the Jordan border.
As UN efforts to convene a Russian- and US-backed peace conference have faltered, Assad’s regime has pressed its offensives mainly around central Syria and Damascus.
The UN says the 28-month-old civil war in Syria has killed more than 100,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes.


Stena Impero owner met Iran’s Zarif to urge release of UK-flagged ship

Updated 3 min 45 sec ago

Stena Impero owner met Iran’s Zarif to urge release of UK-flagged ship

LONDON: The owner of a British-flagged tanker detained in Iran has met the country’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to make the case for the ship and its crew to be released.
Erik Hanell, chief executive of Stena Bulk, met Zarif in Stockholm on Aug. 20 to ask for the Stena Impero to be released. It was detained by Tehran on July 19, two weeks after Britain detained an Iranian tanker off the territory of Gibraltar. That ship was released this week.
“A constructive dialogue was had and we shared information around the case,” Hanell said in a statement on Wednesday. “It was important for us to emphasize the importance of the release of the 23 crew ... Also for the release of the Swedish owned vessel Stena Impero.