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Syrian regime: Forces take over key rebel stronghold

From Nick Paton Walsh, CNN
July 29, 2013 -- Updated 1540 GMT (2340 HKT)
A government tank is shown in the Khalidiya neighborhood of Syria's central city of Homs on Sunday.
A government tank is shown in the Khalidiya neighborhood of Syria's central city of Homs on Sunday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Khalidiya neighborhood of Homs has been a rebel stronghold for about a year
  • The area is crucial because it helps the regime gain control of Homs
  • Opposition activists have said the regime has control of about half of Khalidiya
  • A capture there could be a turning point in a war that has killed 100,000 people

Beirut, Lebanon (CNN) -- The Syrian regime says it has taken over a rebel stronghold in Homs, inflicting a strategic and psychological blow to rebels in the country's two-year-long crisis.

Government forces took control of the Khalidiya neighborhood of Homs, Syrian state-run TV reported Monday. The area had been under rebel control for about a year.

Controlling the area of Khalidiya is crucial as it helps regime forces gain control of the city of Homs. In turn, controlling Homs helps gain a handle on the main routes and territory between the coastal town of Tartus, on the Mediterranean, and the capital, Damascus.

A regime capture of Homs could be a key turning point in the bloody war, which has killed more than 100,000 people.

McCain: Syria policy 'a disgrace'
In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
Syrian civil war in photos
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Syrian civil war in photos Syrian civil war in photos

The rebel Free Syrian Army has not commented on the regime's claim. But on Saturday, dissidents reported violent clashes between rebels and government forces in Khalidiya. Fighters from Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia backed by Iran, joined the regime's side, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Opposition activists said the regime had taken over about 50% of Khalidiya.

Khalidiya has been a rebel haven as the rest of Homs city suffered intense fighting. Syria's third-largest city is now riddled with scars from shelling and airstrikes that pummeled it last year.

President Bashar al-Assad's forces have made notable advances in recent months, including the capture of Qusayr, a town near the Lebanese border. Hezbollah fighters were instrumental in that siege.

CNN's Holly Yan contributed to this report.

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