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Assad's forces kill dozens of rebels in Homs city

A Free Syrian Fighter holds his weapon inside a damaged building in the besieged area of Homs, January 4, 2014. REUTERS/Yazan Homsy
A Free Syrian Fighter holds his weapon inside a damaged building in the besieged area of Homs, January 4, 2014. REUTERS/Yazan Homsy

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed dozens of rebel fighters who tried to break an army siege of the central city of Homs, state media and a monitoring group said.

SANA news agency quoted a military source as saying army units "confronted armed terrorist groups" trying to get into the Khaldiya neighborhood north of the besieged rebel area in the Old City in the heart of Homs this week.

Thirty-seven rebels were killed by the army, SANA said, without giving a figure for losses among Assad's forces.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 45 rebels were surrounded and killed as they left the old city on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

The Britain-based Observatory, which monitors the violence in Syria through a network of military and medical sources, said it had no information on government losses.

Assad's forces have surrounded rebels for more than a year in Homs, a center of the uprising against Assad in 2011 which turned into an armed uprising and civil war after the Syrian leader's forces cracked down on protesters.

They have also pushed back rebel forces from nearby rural areas which had formed part of their supply lines from neighboring Lebanon and allowed the rebels to challenge control of the main highway linking Damascus to Homs, the Mediterranean coast and the north of the country.

Assad has lost control of large areas of northern and eastern Syria, but deadly infighting among rebel forces has stalled their military campaign to overthrow him.

Hundreds of rebels have been killed in a week of fighting by an array of Islamist and more moderate fighters against an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The fighting comes less than a fortnight before planned peace talks in Switzerland aimed at finding a political solution to almost three years of conflict, which the Observatory says has killed 130,000 people, and agreeing a transitional body to govern Syria.

(Reporting by Dominic Evans, editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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