Syrian rebels broke through government lines to ease a siege of their positions in the strategic central city of Homs on Sunday despite coming under fierce aerial bombardment, opposition campaigners said, Reuters reported.
The communally mixed city of Sunni Muslims and Alawites, the minority sect that has dominated Syria since the 1960s, has emerged as a major battleground in the two-year-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. The bloodshed has claimed about 70,000 lives so far, according to the United Nations.
Homs, 140 km (88 miles) north of Damascus in central Syria, lies on a vital road juncture linking army bases on the Mediterranean coast, home to a large proportion of Assad's Alawites, and government forces in the capital Damascus.
In a counter-offensive, Sunni rebels punched their way through government lines in the north and west to loosen a months-long army siege on their strongholds in the center of the Syria's third biggest city, opposition sources said.
Insurgents based in the provinces of Hama and Idlib advanced on Homs this weekend from the north while brigades from rural Homs attacked government positions in its Baba Amro district.
This area was overrun by the army after a long siege a year ago and subsequently visited by Assad.
The Syrian state news agency said "a unit of our brave army engaged with an armed terrorist group that had tried to infiltrate Baba Amro ... and killed and wounded several of its members."
Abu Imad, an opposition activist, said the sound of aerial bombardment on Baba Amro in western Homs shook the city.
"This situation is muddled in the whole of Homs, but what is certain is that the regime is busy trying to repel rebel brigades who have broken into Baba Amro from its rural surroundings," he said.
Both sides have taken heavy casualties since the army went on the offensive 10 days ago to take the central districts of Khalidya, al-Qusour and Old Homs, where rebel brigades have been dug in for months, according to opposition military sources.
Rebels repulsed several army attempts to take Khalidya with infantry in the last 10 days and dozens from both sides have been killed, the sources said.