Damascus hit; gov’t retakes Homs district

By Albert Aji and Ben Hubbard, AP

DAMASCUS, Syria–Mortars pounded at least two areas of Damascus on Tuesday, killing a girl and wounding several people, state media reported, while anti-regime activists said government troops seized control of a neighborhood in the central city of Homs that is considered a symbol of opposition to President Bashar Assad’s regime.

The Syrian military’s recapture of Baba Amr came as opposition representatives took the country’s seat for the first time at an Arab League summit, a significant diplomatic boost for the rebellion.

The seesaw fight for Baba Amr reflects the back-and-forth nature of Syria’s 2-year-old civil war. While rebels appear to be gaining ground, their progress is slow and their fighters remain vulnerable to Assad’s military superiority.

The regime has ample heavy weapons and a fleet of fighter jets but a shortage of ground troops, meaning it often abandons areas to rebel forces then pounds them with artillery and airstrikes from afar, sometimes forcing rebel retreats. It also frequently claims to have “secured” areas only to report months later that it “secured” them again, with little explanation of how rebels got back in.

In Damascus, the SANA state news agency said Tuesday a girl was killed in the Bikhtiyar area of the western neighborhood of Baramkeh. Two more mortar shells also hit Baramkeh, one near a hospital. It said several other mortar rounds landed in the neighborhood of Bab Touma, a Christian neighborhood on the east side of downtown.

It was not immediately clear who fired the mortars. Such sporadic attacks in the capital have grown more common in recent weeks as rebels have continued to clash with government troops on the city’s east and south sides. While the shelling rarely causes many casualties, it has shattered the aura of normalcy the regime has tried to cultivate in Damascus.

The government blamed “terrorists,” its blanket term for anti-Assad forces.

Also Tuesday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that government forces pushed rebels from the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs after two weeks of clashes, shelling and airstrikes that destroyed many homes.

The state news agency said Monday that government forces had “restored security and stability” to the neighborhood.

A Homs-based government official confirmed to The Associated Press that regime troops took control of Baba Amr.

“Baba Amr is now a safe area,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official statements. He said clashes continued elsewhere in Homs.

Baba Amr, a poor, predominantly Sunni neighborhood in southwest Homs, emerged early in the uprising as a symbol of the rebel movement, first for its protests and later for the armed groups who held it against the regime onslaught.