Homs has come to be known as "the capital of the Syrian revolution" as it continues to bear the brunt of the Syrian regime's brutal crackdown on the eight-month-long uprising.
Of the roughly 3,500 people killed by government forces, as many as 1,000 have died in Homs. Approximately 100 of those deaths have come in the last week, despite the Syrian government's promise to withdraw from restive cities and start a dialogue with the opposition.
Homs, Syria's third largest city, was not the flashpoint of the protests in March, but it is where the effort to topple President Bashar al-Assad took hold. The turning point for Homs came in April when soldiers fired on a protest in the city's central Clock Tower Square, cutting down 17 people.
Since then thousands of residents have been arrested, and according to Human Rights Watch documents many of them have been tortured while in custody.
Human Rights Watch said it had confirmed that 17 people have died in custody. Twelve of them "bore unmistakable marks consistent with torture, including bruises, cuts and burns," according to the report entitled "We Live As In War."
On Monday, the opposition Syrian National Council declared Homs a "disaster area" and appealed for international intervention to protect civilians. They say government forces have cut electricity and water supplies.
According to the BBC, one of the reasons that Homs has become central to the pro-democracy movement is that significant numbers of army defectors have congregated there. "Armed and able to shoot back," according to the BBC, "they provided security and a perimeter for demonstrations, and also helped to root out collaborators."
There are conflicting reports from residents and activists of gunmen on both sides swarming into one another's neighborhoods, abducting and shooting civilians. Fighting between pro-regime members of the Alawite Muslim and Christian minorities and the Sunni Muslim majority could herald a worrying sectarian twist to the uprising.
Times news researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Sources: BBC News, State Department Background Notes, Encyclopedia Britannica, Lonely Planet, Columbia Gazetteer of the World, Times wires.