- Government troops now have direct access to an opposition stronghold, activists say
- People in the Old District fear reprisals, the Revolutionary Council of Homs says
- A government effort to retake Homs was launched in recent weeks
Syrian troops took control of large swaths of territory in the flashpoint city of Homs Thursday, encircling an opposition suburb, an activist group said.
President Bashar al-Assad's forces retook the Wadi al-Sayah neighborhood, giving the troops direct access to the Old District of Homs, an opposition stronghold, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"Rebels in Wadi al-Sayah are fighting to stop the government troops from entering the Old District of Homs and are helping 200 families flee the area toward the Old District, "activist Abu Bilal told CNN.
Eight hundred families and nearly 500 wounded people in the Old District now fear for their lives and many worry they will become victims of reprisal attacks and even sectarian killings, the Revolutionary Council of Homs said.
"The suburbs of Homs today are under a greater threat than ever before," the statement added, "Every decision maker and leader capable of helping us will be judged by God, people, and history,"
A bastion of resistance against the regime, the Old District of Homs supports the campaign by rebels to overthrow the government and often provides material support to the fighters of the Free Syria Army.
"The families in Old Homs feel disappointed in everyone and the opposition, but they remain steadfast in their resilience and will not flee." Abu Bilal said.
In recent weeks, government forces launched an offensive to regain Homs, the country's third largest city, where the opposition has been in control of central districts for more than a year. The fighting put many civilians under the threat of constant bombardment and a suffocating siege with limited access to food staples, electricity and water.
Syrian troops destroyed an explosive device warehouse and killed and injured a number of terrorists in Homs, state media reported Thursday. The government refers to opposition forces as terrorists.
CNN is unable to independently confirm reports of casualties in Syria because access by international media is heavily restricted.
Homs became a symbol of the uprising against the Assad government as massive street protests against the authoritarian regime were staged in 2011, and it later became the site of a relentless assault by the Syrian government that the opposition said was aimed at destroying a nascent rebel fighting force at the expense of the civilian population.
The government claims its troops are eliminating terrorist groups that have infiltrated Homs, and it seeks to protect the civilian population from acts of violence and weed out arms obtained illegally by radicals.