Government airstrikes have killed three in Syria’s central city of Homs. Armed forces began launching raids, shelling attacks and a ground offensive on rebel-held areas of the central city of Homs last week.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced that warplanes pounded the old quarters of Homs early Sunday, killing one woman and two children.
On the offensive, President Bashar al-Assad's forces reclaimed some of the territory they lost to the rebels since Syria's civil war began as a series of nonviolent protests in March 2011.
The operation prompted the key opposition National Coalition to issue a statement late Saturday urging "battalions of the Free Syrian Army to come to the aid of Homs with all means possible." The group also called on international backers of the uprising to establish a no-fly zone and carry out air strikes against regime military bases.
The recent moves by Assad's troops have alarmed international supporters of the rebels, leading the United States, for example, to announce that it will step up military support. Hopes for a US- and Russian-backed peace conference have dimmed.
‘The worst campaign'
Regime troops have stepped up efforts to regain territory. The Observatory reported that the all-out shelling was hitting the neighborhoods of Khaldiyeh, Bab Hub, Hamidiyeh and Bustan al-Diwan.
"This is the worst campaign against the city since the revolution began," an activist in the rebel-held old quarter of the city told news agencies on Saturday via Skype. "They are using all types of weapons," the man said on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.
There was one bright spot for the rebels, however: "The army is continuing its attempt to enter Khaldiyeh, but it hasn't succeeded so far," said Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the opposition-affiliated Observatory.
Army's march continues
Assad's forces want to gain control over the axis connecting Damascus to the Mediterranean. Syrian state media reported the army was "achieving great progress" in Khaldiyeh.
Saturday's bombardment on Homs follows steady military gains by Assad's forces in recent weeks, gains that have been credited somewhat to Syria being backed by Lebanese Hezbollah militants.
Three weeks ago, for example, Hezbollah assisted Assad's regime by recapturing the border town of Qusair, a former rebel bridgehead for smuggling guns and fighters. The rebels lost another town last week, Tel Kalakh.
A city of about 1 million, Homs has sided with the rebels since the early days of the uprising. Homs is Syria's third largest city and capital of its largest province, which carries the same name and stretches from the Lebanese border to the frontier with Jordan and Iraq.
Meanwhile, the German organization Grünhelme, which helps with reconstruction and health, released a statement on its website Saturday announcing that three men went missing May 15, when they were kidnapped in the town of Harem in the Idlib district near Syria's northern border with Turkey.
mkg/jlw (AFP, AP)