BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian troops on Monday routed government opponents in a neighborhood of Homs that had emerged in recent weeks as a center of armed resistance to the regime led by President Bashar Assad. The defeat appeared to be a serious setback to the protest movement and to an Arab League peace initiative designed to end the violence.
Homs residents and human rights groups said security forces stormed the Baba Amr neighborhood in the early morning, concluding a six-day assault in which dozens of people were killed and scores injured, many of them in tank bombardments.
The assault came as Assad's government braced for the potential fallout from its failure to abide by the terms of an Arab League-sponsored peace initiative agreed to Wednesday. Under the deal, Syria was to withdraw troops from cities, allow peaceful protests and release detainees.
Instead, the army launched an offensive in Homs, accompanied by a surge in retaliatory sectarian killings in which hospital workers and human rights groups have said at least 70 people died, illustrating the potential for this religiously mixed city in the heart of Syria to serve as a crucible for a civil war many have feared since the uprising erupted in March.
For three days last week, members of the Sunni majority and the Alawite minority, to which Assad belongs, attacked one another.
The Local Coordination Committees, which monitors and supports the protests, said at least 40 civilians were killed in the Homs offensive since the league peace plan was announced. Rami Abdelrahman of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll could be higher because many injured civilians were unable to reach hospitals.
Abdelrahman said that at least 30 defected soldiers died in a final defense of the neighborhood Sunday, before the survivors fled.
Arab leaders have effectively declared their peace initiative dead, and Qatar has summoned an emergency meeting of the league on Saturday to address next steps against Syria.