Middle East

Syrian army 'makes key gains in Homs'

Khalid Ibn al-Walid mosque in the heavily disputed Homs neighbourhood of Khalidiya, 27 July, Syrian state media handout
Image caption Syrian state media images showed heavy damage to Khalidiya's buildings

Syrian government forces have taken most of the Khalidiya neighbourhood in the central city of Homs, one of the few remaining districts there under rebel control, activists and media say.

The army had launched an offensive in the area on Saturday.

Rebels had held Khalidiya for more than a year in a city seen as a symbol for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

The capture reflects a series of recent gains by loyalist forces.

The UN says more than 100,000 people have been killed in the 28-month conflict in Syria, with a further 1.7 million Syrians forced to seek shelter in neighbouring countries.

Hezbollah accusation

The pan-Arab television station al-Mayadeen said 80% of Khalidiya was now under the control of government forces.

One Syrian army officer said: "Only the northern sector is left and that will be liberated within 24 hours."

Footage showed heavily damaged buildings, piles of rubble and smashed concrete.

Activists said that only the Old City of Homs and a few other districts remained under rebel control.

They accused Lebanese Hezbollah fighters of taking part in the offensive.

Homs is a strategically important city, linking the capital Damascus to the coast.

Attempts at holding a peace conference on Syria have been delayed by differences between international powers, particularly Russia and the US, and doubts about whether all sides within the country would attend.