Syrian army strips rebels of 'revolution capital'

Updated: 2013-07-31 19:53


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DAMASCUS - The Syrian army took 20 days of fighting to strip the western-backed rebels of a strategic central district regarded by the rebels as the capital of their revolution against the administration of President Bashar al-Assad.

During a trip of Xinhua reporters to the focal point of al- Khalidieh district in the central province of Homs, the reporters had the chance to walk through the rubble-strewn streets of the hard-battered district. Not a single building was standing still.

Everything looked as if the doom day had a tryout on this spot of Homs, which seemed empty of everything, but the smell of death and the rattling sound of explosions echoing from a distance.

The Syrian army announced Monday that its troops successfully regained full control over al-Khalidieh "after a series of precise operations" there.

The operations are still ongoing in the surrounding districts of al-Khalidieh to dislodge the armed terrorist groups, the Syrian army said in a statement. It said that the operation in al- Khalidieh is extremely important due to its strategic location that would change the course of battles in the old Homs area in favor of the army.

The statement said the army would continue its "heroic" operations to purge all Syrian soil from terrorism.

"Al-Khalidieh is one hundred percent secure now, but some snipers of the rebels are still nesting in nearby rebellious neighborhoods so you better be careful before standing in an open area," one solider told Xinhua reporter.

Similar scenes of destruction were seen before in al-Qussair town in Homs where the Syrian army also unleashed a ferocious offensive to retrieve it from the rebels last month.

Experts said the army is working on securing southern and central areas in Syria before opening a large-scale offensive to recapture the northern province of Aleppo, which has largely spiraled out of the government's control into the hands of al- Qaida-linked groups, mainly the Nusra Front.

So far, destruction was the main result of any war between the government troops and the rebels despite the government troops' repetitive accusation of the rebels of being behind the great deal of destruction across the country.

During the tour, the reporters were trying to eye any sign of life in the district, but to no avail. The area was totally abandoned of everything but some pro-government militias inspecting buildings used by the rebels and taking some war bounties, similar to what the rebels would do when they enter a pro-government area.

An army officer told Xinhua that the Popular Defense Committees (PDC), which are pro-government militias formed recently to back up the Syrian army, were to be thanked also for clearing the area of rebels. He, however, didn't mention any role of the Lebanese Hezbollah fighters in the battle for al-Khalidieh unlike last month's battle in al-Qussair where the army's victory was regarded as Hezbollah's one due to the great effort the Lebanese Shiite group had rendered to the Syrian troops.

The officer, which has asked not to be named, said that al- Khalidieh had been controlled over the past two years by the al- Qaida-linked Nusra Front. He added that those who fled the army's operation took an escape to the nearby al-Qarabice and Bab Houd districts.

Pointing to a big map of Homs districts on his wall, the officer speculated that the entire city of Homs would be cleared of rebels within two months.

"There are no terrorists here anymore and now," a member of the PDC told Xinhua.