Syria rebels stage surprise assault in Homs
AFPDAMASCUS -- Syria rebels staged a surprise dawn attack on Sunday against the key district of Baba Amr in the central city of Homs, a year after regime forces retook it after a deadly monthlong siege.
March 11, 2013, 12:10 am TWN
Activists said the assault aimed to ease pressure on other districts in Homs where the army launched an offensive several days ago to capture rebel enclaves.
The new battle for Baba Amr began as jihadist fighters in the oil-producing east said they had established religious committees to administer the area's policing, judiciary and emergency services.
The violence also came as U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres warned that the number of Syrian refugees, which has already passed the million mark, could double or triple by the end of the year.
“We announce the 'great victory battle' to liberate neighborhoods (controlled by the army), namely Baba Amr, and ease the pressure on our comrades and on besieged Homs districts,” a rebel said in a video posted on the Internet.
Omar, an activist who is in touch with the insurgents, said the rebels had infiltrated Baba Amr under cover of darkness. “Those manning the army checkpoints barely had time to realize what was going on,” he said.
The army later massed reinforcements around Baba Amr, Omar said.
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the “surprise” dawn assault came after troops had reduced their presence in Baba Amr to target other rebel-held districts, including Khaldiyeh.
The army, which controls around 80 percent of Homs, Syria's third-largest city, launched an offensive several days ago to recapture Khaldiyeh in the north and rebel enclaves in the old city, using helicopters to bombard them.
The army has besieged Khaldiyeh and neighborhoods in the old city for eight months.
In March last year President Bashar al-Assad's army captured Baba Amr after pounding it relentlessly during a bloody campaign lasting more than a month.
At least 160 people were killed across Syria on Saturday, and if no solution is found the number of refugees could greatly multiply, Guterres told reporters in Ankara.
“Now if this escalation goes on and nothing happens to solve the problem we might have in the end of the year a much larger number of refugees: twice or three times the present level” of 1 million, he said.