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Syria shells long-besieged Homs in extended attack

October 5, 2012 |  5:09 pm

Homs shelling
BEIRUT -- The Syrian military on Friday bombarded the central city of Homs for more than 12 hours in the  longest sustained government attack on the city in months, opposition activists said.

Homs, once a city of 1 million people, has experienced some of the heaviest fighting and bombardment during the more than 18-month conflict. Most residents are believed to have fled the city.

“Today’s shelling is as if they are preparing to storm” parts of Homs, said Abu Fidaa, the name used by an opposition activist reached Friday in Homs’ Khaldiyeh district, one of the targets of Friday’s bombardment. “It’s worse than Gaza.”

The shelling lasted from about 7 a.m. until after 7 p.m., he said.

Homs was the principal urban battlefield in Syria long before Damascus and Aleppo, the two largest Syrian cities, became major combat zones in recent months. But Homs has remained a heavily contested area and the site of major clashes despite the media focus on fighting in the other cities.

Some neighborhoods of Homs are largely deserted, filled only by rubble and battered buildings, witnesses say. Yet they say life has returned to some sense of normality in other districts where there has been less fighting.

The official Syrian government news service reported Friday that more than 20 terrorists, the government label for opposition fighters, were killed in military attacks on several districts of Homs.

Elsewhere in Syria, opposition forces said they had shot down a helicopter near Damascus. There was no independent corroboration of the report.

Meanwhile, the Turkish media reported that the Turkish military conducted retaliatory fire  into Syria on Friday for the third consecutive day. The Turkish strike followed word that a mortar from the Syrian side had fallen in the southern Turkish province of Hatay. No injuries were reported on the ground in Turkey. Turkey has vowed to retaliate against Syria for any strikes across the nation’s more than 500-mile border with Syria.

 On Wednesday, an apparent mortar shell from Syria struck the Turkish border town of Akcakale, killing five people. That incident drew international outrage and prompted Turkish artillery to fire back at Syrian batteries believed to be involved in the incident.

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-- Rima Marrouch and Patrick J. McDonnell

Photo: An image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on outside reporting, shows smoke rising from houses after government shelling in Homs, Syria, on Oct. 5, 2012.  Credit: Shaam News Network / Associated Press

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