Syrian rebels make last stand for Homs

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File-This file photo released on Thursday Nov. 29, 2012 by the anti-government activist group Homs City Union of The Syrian Revolution, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Syrian citizens walk in a destroyed street that was attacked by Syrian forces warplanes, at Abu al-Hol street in Homs province, Syria. Rebels make their last stand in Homs, fighting desperately to cling to their last bastion in the city’s old quarters as emboldened forces loyal to President Bashar Assad launch a fierce assault to evict them completely from the city once known as the capital of the revolution. (AP Photo/Homs City Union of The Syrian Revolution, File)

File-This file photo released on Thursday Nov. 29, 2012 by the anti-government activist group Homs City Union of The Syrian Revolution, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Syrian citizens walk in a destroyed street that was attacked by Syrian forces warplanes, at Abu al-Hol street in Homs province, Syria. Rebels make their last stand in Homs, fighting desperately to cling to their last bastion in the city’s old quarters as emboldened forces loyal to President Bashar Assad launch a fierce assault to evict them completely from the city once known as the capital of the revolution. (AP Photo/Homs City Union of The Syrian Revolution, File)

File-This file photo released on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012 by the anti-government activist group Shaam News Network SNN, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a man looks at destroyed buildings from Syrian forces shelling in Khaldiyeh, Homs, Syria. Rebels make their last stand in Homs, fighting desperately to cling to their last bastion in the city’s old quarters as emboldened forces loyal to President Bashar Assad launch a fierce assault to evict them completely from the city once known as the capital of the revolution. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network SNN, File)

File-This Sunday Feb. 9, 2014 file photo, released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian citizens walk towards a bus to evacuate them from the battleground city of Homs, Syria. Rebels make their last stand in Homs, fighting desperately to cling to their last bastion in the city’s old quarters as emboldened forces loyal to President Bashar Assad launch a fierce assault to evict them completely from the city once known as the capital of the revolution. (AP Photo/SANA, File)

FILE-This file photo released on Monday, June 18, 2012 by the anti-government activist group Rebels Battalion of Baba Amro, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian rebels holding their weapons as they prepare to fight against Syrian troops, in Homs province, Syria. Rebels make their last stand in Homs, fighting desperately to cling to their last bastion in the city’s old quarters as emboldened forces loyal to President Bashar Assad launch a fierce assault to evict them completely from the city once known as the capital of the revolution. (AP Photo/Rebels Battalion of Baba Amro, File)

File-This file photo released on Monday, June 18, 2012 by the anti-government activist group Rebels Battalion of Baba Amro, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian rebels holding their weapons as they prepare to fight against Syrian troops, in Homs province, Syria. Rebels make their last stand in Homs, fighting desperately to cling to their last bastion in the city’s old quarters as emboldened forces loyal to President Bashar Assad launch a fierce assault to evict them completely from the city once known as the capital of the revolution. (AP Photo/Rebels Battalion of Baba Amro, File)

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BEIRUT (AP) — Weakened Syrian rebels are making their last desperate stand in Homs, as forces loyal to President Bashar Assad launch their harshest assault yet to expel them from the central city, once known as the capital of the revolution.

Some among the hundreds of rebels remaining in the city talk of surrender, according to opposition activists there. Others have lashed back against the siege with suicide car bombings in districts under government control. Some fighters are turning on comrades they suspect want to desert, pushing them into battle.

“We expect Homs to fall,” said an activist who uses the name Thaer Khalidiya in an online interview with The Associated Press. “In the next few days, it could be under the regime’s control.”

The fight for Homs underscores Assad’s determination to rout rebels ahead of presidential elections now set for June 3, aiming to scatter fighters back further north toward their supply lines on the Turkish borders. Assad’s forces are building on gains elsewhere — they have been able to almost clear rebels from a broad swath of territory south of Homs between the capital, Damascus, and the Lebanese border, breaking important rebel supply lines there. Rebels have also capitulated in several towns around Damascus after blockades that caused widespread hunger and suffering.

Homs, Syria’s third largest city, is a crucial target. Located in the country’s center, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Damascus, it links the capital with Aleppo in the north — the country’s largest city and another key battleground. But rebels still control large areas of the countryside in the north and south and have consolidated around the Turkish and Jordanian borders.

“A total loss of Homs would represent a serious loss to the opposition,” said Charles Lister, visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center.

“The military has maintained a steadily significant focus on Homs precisely due to this importance,” said Lister. “This has been all been part of a very conscious strategy of encircling, besieging and capturing areas of strategic importance,” particularly urban areas.

For well over a year, government forces have been besieging rebels in the string of districts they hold in the city center, around its ancient bazaars.

Just over a week ago, troops loyal to Assad

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