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Syria troops intensify assault on Homs

Tuesday, October 09, 2012    

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DAMASCUS, Syria (AFP) — The Syrian army moved to crush resistance in the Homs region yesterday hoping to free up troops for the north, as Republican challenger Mitt Romney said Washington should be doing more to get the rebels weapons.

Exiled Opposition Leader Abdel Basset Sayda crossed from Turkey into rebel-held territory in the north for talks with Free Syrian Army commanders on his first such visit since taking up the post in June, rebel sources said.

Turkey bombarded Syrian army positions in response to what Turkish officials said was a new shell strike on a border district, as the military kept

up its policy of retaliating for all

cross-border fire.

On the ground, the army attacked rebel neighbourhoods of the city of Homs — Syria's third largest — and the nearby town of Qusayr, where rebel forces have been under siege since late last year, sources on both sides said.

"The army is in the midst of trying to cleanse the last rebel districts of the city of Homs," a Syrian army commander told AFP.

"The army has already cleansed the villages surrounding Qusayr, and is now trying to take back the town itself," the commander said on condition of anonymity.

A security official told AFP the army hopes to retake the besieged areas by the end of the week to free up troops for battle zones in the north, such as Aleppo.

"It is a huge operation, and we hope to finish it off by the end of this week," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"After that, we will concentrate on the north of Syria."

Homs province has suffered some of the worst bloodshed and destruction of the uprising which erupted against President Bashar al-Assad's regime in March last year, but since July the main focus of the conflict has shifted to Aleppo, the northern metropolis of some 1.7 million people.

The army pounded a string of

rebel-held neighbourhoods in the north and east of Aleppo on Monday.

Hospital staff in just one of those districts — the Shaar neighbourhood — told AFP they had received seven dead — four civilians and three rebel fighters — and 55 wounded.

Nationwide, a total of 141 people were killed on Monday — 56 civilians, 53 soldiers and 32 rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The death toll since the start of

the uprising now tops 32,000, the Britain-based watchdog said.

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