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Syrian army retakes key rebel-held area in Homs district

The Syrian government-backed army is making key advances in rebel-held territory.

Syria june 8Enlarge
Syrian army soldiers gather in front of a badly damaged clock tower on top of which flies a Syrian flag on the main square of the city of Qusayr on June 5, 2013 in Syria's central Homs province. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The government-backed Syrian army has recaptured a key district that was held by the rebels, according to the state broadcaster.

"The armed forces have restored security and stability across the neighborhood of Khaldiyeh," state television reported on Monday, refering to an area in the central city of Homs.

Khaldiyeh is an important transit route between Damascus and the Mediterranean coast.

Images from state-run TV showed extensive destruction in the mainly residential neighborhood. Activists told reporters that most of the buildings were no longer fit to live in.

The advance by the Syrian army comes just a day after rebels were expelled from a mosque they had held for more than a year.

Syrian government forces captured the ancient Khalid Ibn al-Walid Mosque in Khaldiyeh on Saturday.

Khaldiyeh was considered one of strongest bastions of rebels in Syria's third largest city. It has been under opposition control since 2011.

The army recaptured the key province town of Qusayr near the Lebanon border in June, with help from the Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah.

If the army were to fully recapture Homs, called the "capital of the revolution" by rebels, it would be a major victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

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Meanwhile, Syrian activists said the death toll from the conflict continued to rise.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad monitoring group that keeps an independent tally of those killed on both sides of the Syrian conflict, cited activists, saying 150 soldiers were killed in and around the town of Khan al-Assal by rebels on Friday.

Syrian state media said that 123 "civilians and military personnel" were killed in a "massacre" and others were still missing.

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"Those involved in such crimes will be held accountable," the opposition Syrian National Coalition said in a statement. It also said reports suggested those involved in the massacre were not part of the main rebel coalition but "armed groups."

The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed in the more than two-year civil war.
 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/syria/130729/syrian-army-retakes-key-rebel-held-homs-district