Archive for July 6th, 2013

Syrian troops advance in rebel-held parts of Homs

July 06, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — An activist and Syrian state media say regime troops are advancing in parts of the rebel-held city of Homs.

Homs-based activist Tarik Badrakhan said Saturday that Syrian troops seized control of buildings in the rebel-held district of Khaldiyeh, the first time government forces entered Homs neighborhoods held by rebels for over a year. Syrian state media said troops were advancing and they had killed rebels in the area.

Badrakhan says troops began the move Friday night. He says regime forces continued to pound the area with mortar shells and missiles Saturday, part a major offensive by President Bashar Assad’s troops to seize control of territory they lost to rebels.

Homs is a strategic city located between the capital Damascus and the Syrian coast, a stronghold for the Assad regime.

Lebanese protesters rally in support of fugitive sheikh

SIDON, Lebanon | Fri Jul 5, 2013

(Reuters) – More than 300 Lebanese rallied in the coastal city of Sidon in support of a fugitive Sunni Islamist cleric on Friday, a day after an audio recording believed to be his voice urged followers to demonstrate.

The protest march prompted fears of more sectarian fighting in Sidon two weeks after the cleric’s supporters and soldiers clashed there, in the worst outbreak of violence in Lebanon so far fuelled by the two-year conflict in neighboring Syria.

Angry demonstrators waved banners and cheered their support for Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir, a firebrand Sunni Muslim cleric.

Assir, now on the run, was a staunch supporter of Syria’s Sunni-led uprising and accused the army of backing the interests of the Shi’ite Muslim guerrilla group Hezbollah, which is now openly fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad.

Local residents said the route of the march passed near a Shi’ite neighborhood, which they feared could spark clashes. More than 40 people were killed in the fighting two weeks ago.

“With blood and soul, we sacrifice for you Assir,” the sheikh’s supporters shouted as they clapped their hands and marched out of the charred and bullet-scarred buildings around the cleric’s Bilal Bin Rabah mosque complex.

The area became a battle zone for two days last month after a group of Assir backers attacked an army checkpoint in response to the arrest of one of the cleric’s supporters.

Demonstrators attacked television journalists and photographers during Friday’s march and broke some cameras, local residents said.

“God protect you, Sheikh Assir,” other protesters cheered.

An audio recording was released on YouTube on Thursday that was said to be the voice of Assir, though it was badly distorted and therefore difficult to verify conclusively.

The message, which his supporters celebrated as proof that Assir is still alive, repeated the cleric’s claims that the army had conspired with Hezbollah to attack him.

Sporadic violence and rising regional tensions have strained fragile sectarian relations across Lebanon and sparked fears that Syria-related clashes could eventually plunge the tiny country back into war. Lebanon is still struggling to heal from its 1975-1990 civil war.

(Reporting by Ali Hashisho, writing by Erika Solomon, Editing by Gareth Jones)

Source: Reuters.