BEIRUT: At least 23 soldiers and pro-regime militiamen have been killed, and dozens wounded, in three days of fierce clashes in the central city of Homs, a flashpoint in Syria's conflict, activists said Tuesday.
"We have reports from the military hospital in Homs of up to 130 soldiers and pro-regime fighters killed or wounded in the past three days," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"So far, we have confirmed 23 of the men have died, but the actual number may be higher," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
The troops were killed in fierce fighting in western Homs, many of them in battles for rebel-held Sultaniyeh and Jobar districts, he added.
"Western Homs city is key because it lies on a strategic faultline, both for the rebels and for the regime," explained Abdel Rahman.
"The area is next to the main highway linking Damascus to the sea. Its importance has to do with access not only to the capital, but also to trade and arms coming into Syria from the Mediterranean," he said.
Activists on the ground said the city and province of the same name have returned to the forefront of 22-month conflict in Syria that the United Nations estimates has cost more than 600,000 lives.
"Nowhere in Syria has the violence of the regime's onslaught against rebels been so intense as in Homs city," anti-regime activist Omar Shakir told AFP by telephone.