After Khalidiya, Syria conflict goes on

A handout image released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network on 25 July 2013 purportedly shows the dome of the Khalid bin Walid mosque in Khalidiya, Homs

Government and opposition sources are not quite yet in agreement on what is happening in Khalidiya.

Syrian state TV began reporting on Sunday night that this opposition enclave of Homs, held by the rebels since the summer of 2011, had fallen.

Activists and fighters in Homs denied it, saying the government had made big gains but there were still pockets of fighters hanging on.

Later though, one opposition source said the enclave was "80% gone", while another said that fighters had been pushed to the margins.

Hardly any activists or fighters in Khalidiya are active on Skype now - another sign that the retreat may have happened or is at least under way.

Offensive

The fall of Khalidiya had been expected. One Western diplomat said he had been told recently by a rebel Free Syrian Army commander that it was not possible to get any ammunition or other supplies in. Cut off from help, it was only a matter of time, perhaps, for the rebels.

An Islamist brigade of the FSA posted video on YouTube of fighters wearing suicide belts. With no bullets left, this was their only weapon, they declared.

Syrian government forces on patrol in Khalidiya, Homs (28 July 2013)

There are other parts of Homs still, just, in rebel hands. But if they, along with Khalidiya, do fall, Homs will become just the latest in a line of regime victories on the battlefield.

The regime's forces have been steadily picking off some of the villages around Homs.

Two months ago, with the help of the militant Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah, they recaptured the nearby town of Qusair.

The government has halted - if not quite turned around - a rebel advance into the capital, Damascus.

Sources close to the Syrian regime say an offensive is also planned for the northern city of Aleppo. Certainly, the FSA is bracing itself for an assault on rebel-held parts of the city.

'Secure area'

Some analysts are already speculating that this is the beginning of the end of the armed rebellion.

Western diplomats dealing with the armed opposition believe the government may be able to establish a "secure area" running from Damascus all the way up to Hama, a city 45km (28 miles) to the north of Homs, or even to Aleppo.

What happens now may depend on the extent of foreign intervention.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been sending weapons to the FSA for some time. The US is moving towards sending small arms. The UK is contemplating such a step, but would only do so after a vote in Parliament.

It would probably take a very large influx of weapons to break the government's momentum.

However, that does not mean that the armed uprising will be extinguished.

President Bashar al-Assad has had to use his own foreign fighters, from Hezbollah, to pursue his offensive.

He does not have enough loyal manpower to chase the rebels into the countryside, the mountains and the deserts.

Even if the government takes back the big cities and the main roads, Syria will remain divided, the conflict far from over.

Map of Homs

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