BEIRUT: Syrian rebels in the central city of Homs were on the counteroffensive Sunday, taking control of several buildings in regime-held areas, an activist group said.
The change comes nearly a week after the army launched a fierce ground offensive aimed at reclaiming a handful of besieged areas that are the opposition's last remaining bastion in the city.
Rebels and troops meanwhile battled on the edges of Homs' besieged Old City, as the army pounded a handful of opposition areas there with tank and rocket fire.
"The rebels have reclaimed the initiative, and have taken control of several buildings in the Jeb al-Jandali area" of Homs city, said Rami Abdel-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group with sources inside Syria.
The counteroffensive began after the jihadist Nusra Front, an ally of Syria's rebels, killed five troops in a suicide car bomb attack Saturday in the Jeb al-Jandali area.
The car bomb attack came after soldiers at a regime checkpoint at the entrance of the neighbourhood defected and abandoned their positions, Abdel-Rahman said.
"The rebels' entry into Jeb al-Jandali, which has been under army control for a year and a half, has diverted the loyalists' attention from attacking the Old City to defending their positions," he added.
Only a handful of districts in the heart of Homs, referred to by activists as "the capital of the revolution" against President Bashar Assad, remain under rebel control.
Some 1,500 people were evacuated from the Old City in a U.N.-supervised operation in February, leaving some 1,300 others still trapped inside.
Most are rebel fighters, according to opposition activists.
Activists posted photographs Sunday showing food rebels had seized from regime-held areas a day earlier, such as pasta and vegetables.
For nearly two years, people living in besieged areas of Homs had been surviving on little more than herbs.
Elsewhere in Syria, a man and his two children died in a mortar attack on Arnus Square in the heart of Damascus, the Observatory said.
Rebels operating on the outskirts of the capital frequently launch mortar attacks against regime-controlled areas. Most of the casualties are civilians.
Syria's conflict began as an Arab Spring-inspired protest movement demanding political change, but escalated into an armed insurgency after the regime launched a fierce crackdown on dissent.
In three years, more than 150,000 people have been killed and nearly half the country's population have fled their homes.