Syrian forces attack rebel area of Homs

Syrian warplanes have bombarded a besieged rebel-held district of Homs, southern Deraa and insurgent areas in Damascus’s outskirts in what appeared to be intensifying assaults in the west of the country.

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Much of western Syria is covered by an ongoing but shaky ceasefire between the government and rebels that took effect on December 30, but fighting has rumbled on, with warring sides accusing each other of truce violations as peace talks loom in Geneva next week.

On Damascus’s northeastern outskirts on Saturday Syrian government forces attacked the rebel-held Qaboun and Barzeh districts with rockets and shells and killed at least nine people, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

A Reuters witness heard the sounds of heavy bombardment coming from the area. There was no immediate comment from the government side.

To the north, Syrian jets bombarded the last rebel-held district of Homs, al-Waer, killing at least two people and raising the death toll from nearly two weeks of air strikes there to more than 20, an activist and the Observatory said.

In September, some 120 rebel fighters and their families left al-Waer in agreement with the government, but there have been no further reports of insurgents leaving. The Observatory estimates several thousand rebels remain there.

In the southern province of Deraa, government and Russian warplanes stepped up their bombardment of rebel-held areas, carrying out at least 70 air strikes on Friday and Saturday, on Deraa city and towns to the east, the Observatory reported.

At least four people were killed in the town of Umm al-Mayadhin, and one person in Busra al-Sham, it said.