Syrian Rebel Stronghold On The Verge Of Government Takeover

The Syrian city of Homs has been a rebel stronghold since the anti-government uprising began. But one rebel tells NPR that they're low on ammunition and medical gear.

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WADE GOODWYN, HOST:

Over to the Middle East now, to Syria. The city of Homs is known as the capital of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It was one of the first places where crowds called for democracy. It was also one of the first to be shelled by the Syrian army. NPR's Alice Fordham reports that the rebels say they are running out of supplies - and out of time.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Inside the Homs' Old City district, the rebels say they are afraid the last days of their fight have come. Soldiers are advancing. They don't know how long they can keep fighting back. From inside the Old City, an activist who uses nom de guerre Abu Zaid says that for a while, they had a smuggling route open.

ABU ZAID: (Through translator) At night we would go and get some ammunition and some medical supplies and come back. That was open for about a month, but then the regime got control.

FORDHAM: Now, he says via Skype, they are running out of ammunition and have no way to treat the wounded. He says there are 1,200 fighters, 60 activists and medics and 120 civilians still inside Old Homs. About 1,500 fighters and civilians were evacuated earlier this year under a UN cease-fire, now broken by both sides.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

FORDHAM: This video uploaded this week shows militias loyal to Assad in the rubble-filled streets of the Old City. The government says there are 2,000 people still there - all terrorists. The opposition-leaning Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says government forces have been slowed by mines, but helicopters are dropping bombs. And American officials this week blamed the violence on the regime. Members of the UN Security Council failed again to agree on a course of action. Rebels still hold other parts of the country, but Assad's forces have gained momentum. Barely three years ago, things in Homs were so different.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

FORDHAM: That's the sound of hundreds of demonstrators filling the center of Homs back in 2011. After decades of brutal rule by Assad and his father, those who dared to protest say they felt a heady elation.

OMAR SHAKA: Was like - I feel like I'm flying while I was demonstrating. I feel the freedom for the first time in my life.

FORDHAM: That's Omar Shaka (ph), an activist who participated in the rallies. He says losing Homs will be a huge blow.

SHAKA: If the regime took it, it will affect the whole revolution. It's like the revolution will have lost its heart.

FORDHAM: But he adds that for people like him, who've lost brothers and cousins, there's no going back. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Beirut.

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