BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Syrian military used airstrikes and heavy artillery to assault rebel-held areas of the central city of Homs on Saturday, residents and antigovernment activists said, as the government renewed efforts to retake that perennially restive and divided city.
A new government push in Homs has been expected since the Syrian army, backed by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, took over the nearby border town of Qusair this month after it was held by rebels for about a year. Homs is the capital of Syria's largest province, which carries the same name. The new fighting suggested that President Bashar Assad was continuing his push to regain control of areas held by the rebels. Homs has existed as a divided city throughout much of the two-year uprising, with some neighborhoods under rebel control. Fighting raged in several areas of the city, including the historic center, and explosions sent columns of smoke rising skyward, according to residents and video posted by activists.
Dr. Walid Fares, an activist in Hamidiyeh, an area of the Old City in Homs, said the government had spent several days mobilizing troops around surrounded rebel areas in Homs, then pummeled some areas with airstrikes.
Then, he said, "they used rocket launchers for hours." He said government troops "shelled us with heavy mortar shells" and "raided us from four different directions."
Fares said that electricity and telecommunications in the old city had long been blocked or damaged, and that he relied on satellite connections. As he talked, explosions echoed in the distance.