Syria unleashes new offensive in Homs

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BEIRUT -- The Syrian military opened a second urban front Friday, attacking the rebel stronghold of Homs with the most intense artillery barrage in months and putting opposition fighters there and in Aleppo on the defensive.

Syria's civil war has been locked in a bloody stalemate, and embattled President Bashar Assad could extend his hold on power if he retakes Aleppo and Homs.

While Assad stepped up attacks at home, tensions with neighboring Turkey flared again Friday, reviving fears that the 18-month-old conflict in Syria could ignite a regional conflagration.

The crisis began Wednesday, when a Syrian shell killed five civilians in a border town and triggered unprecedented artillery strikes by Turkey. Yesterday, a Syrian mortar round again hit inside Turkey, causing no injuries, and Turkish troops returned fire, the state-run news agency Anadolu said.

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Undeterred by its troubles with Turkey, the Syrian regime on Friday launched a new offensive against Homs, unleashing heavy shelling and air attacks.

Regime forces fired rockets and mortar shells at the rebel-held neighborhoods of Old Homs, Khaldiya, Qusour and Jouret el-Shayah, Homs-based activist Abu Rami said via Skype from Old Homs, adding that regime forces were also targeting villages around Homs and the rebel-held town of Rastan to the north.

Homs, Syria's third-largest city and a center of the uprising against Assad, was subjected to intense regime shelling in February and March, the first area to suffer widespread devastation. The regime assault slowed in April, as the focus shifted to other areas, including Aleppo.

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