Syria army retakes key Homs rebel district: state TV

Syrian troops have recaptured a key rebel district of Homs, the state broadcaster reported on Monday, in a boost to regime efforts to reassert control over Syria's third largest city.

The full recapture of Homs, dubbed by rebels "the capital of the revolution," would be a major coup for President Bashar al-Assad's regime as the city straddles a key 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 neighbourhood 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.

Activists on the ground told AFP government troops now controlled 90 percent of the neighbourhood.

The army, backed by fighters from Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah militant group, had launched an assault on Khaldiyeh a month ago as they press efforts to retake all of Homs, activists said.

Several neighbourhoods 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 offensive in the city follows the army's recapture of the strategic Homs province town of Qusayr in June, also with help from Hezbollah.

"We cleansed the neighbourhood of terrorists this morning," said an army officer interviewed by state television.

"We dedicate this victory to Bashar al-Assad, and we hope to cleanse the whole of Syria," added the officer, whom the broadcaster did not identify.

"We will continue to chase the terrorists from all other areas of Homs."

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 neighbourhood 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.

"Khaldiyeh may have fallen, but Homs has not," he said. "We have lost this round, but we haven't lost the war."

As the army advanced in Khaldiyeh, government warplanes struck the Bab Hud neighbourhood of the Old City, just to the south, as the government pressed its offensive, the Britain-based Observatory said.

As UN efforts to convene a Russian- and US-backed peace conference have faltered, Assad's regime has launched offensives to try to recapture rebel-held territory in the north of Syria and around the capital, as well as in the centre.