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Syrian government reclaims parts of Homs; raid in other city

By Salma Abdelaziz, CNN
updated 6:22 AM EDT, Fri May 3, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: A suspension bridge in Deir Ezzor falls under attack
  • People in the Old District fear reprisals, the Revolutionary Council of Homs says
  • Dozens of people were killed in a village in coastal region

(CNN) -- Syrian troops took control of large swaths of territory in the flashpoint city of Homs on Thursday, encircling an opposition suburb, an activist group said.

The Syrian Coalition reported government forces targeted a suspension bridge in Deir Ezzor. State media blamed the attack on terrorists.

And in the coastal region of Banias, troops conducted a deadly raid on the village of al-Bayda.

President Bashar al-Assad's forces retook the Wadi al-Sayah neighborhood, giving 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.

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Eight hundred families and nearly 500 wounded people in the Old District fear for their lives and many worry they will become victims of reprisal attacks and even sectarian killings, the Revolutionary Council of Homs said.

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"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 Syrian 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.

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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.

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.

Elsewhere in Syria, government forces targeted a suspension bridge in Deir Ezzor, causing it to collapse, according to the Syrian Coalition.

"For over 86 years, this historic bridge has connected the two Euphrates banks, but due to Assad's disregard not only for human life, but also for our national monuments, it now lays in ruins," the group said in a statement.

Syrian state media blamed the attack on terrorists.

It also said the military killed a number of terrorists in the village of al-Bayda and seized a cache of weapons after a raid on the hideouts of radical groups.

Syrian troops killed dozens of people Thursday when they stormed the village, according to two opposition groups.

The Local Coordination Committees of Syria claimed government troops used knives to execute people and also burned homes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the military shelled the village as civilians fought troops with guns and knives.

CNN is unable to independently confirm reports of casualties in Syria because access by international media is heavily restricted.

CNN's Hamdi Alkhshali contributed to this report.

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