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Rebels make 'tactical' retreat from Baba Amr in Homs

Syrian opposition fighters said Thursday that they were making a "tactical" retreat from the key Homs district of Baba Amr because of the worsening humanitarian situation as Syrian troops continue to bombard the city.


AFP - Syrian troops took full control of the Homs neighbourhood of Baba Amr on Thursday as rebels announced they were pulling out "tactically" after nearly two days of all-out assault by regime forces.

"The Syrian army controls all of Baba Amr. The last pockets of resistance have fallen," a security official in Damascus told AFP on the 27th day of bombardment targeting the defiant neighbourhood.

The Free Syrian Army, made up mostly of deserters who defected after anti-regime protests erupted in March 2011, said the rebels had to withdraw to save the lives of civilians.

Rebels "have pulled out tactically in order to protect the remaining civilians," FSA chief Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad told AFP.

At least 17 civilians were killed in fighting that took place on the edges of the neighbourhood, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Activists had said on Thursday that rebels were still holding out in Baba Amr.

Syria has denied the head of UN humanitarian operations, Valerie Amos, a visa to visit the embattled country, Amos said in a February 29 statement.

Amos had applied for a visa but received no response.

Amos said she was "deeply disappointed'' that she was unable to meet with Syrian officials in the country "to discuss the humanitarian situation and the need for unhindered access to the people affected by the violence".

"The Free Syrian Army has succeeded in stopping the attempt to attack Baba Amr, and it continues to resist," Homs-based activist Hadi Abdullah told AFP earlier.

He said troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad "have not entered the district," which has become a symbol of the Syrian uprising.

The Observatory said earlier that at least 12 soldiers had been killed in the assault.

"Last night (Wednesday), the bodies of 12 soldiers killed in the fighting around Baba Amr were taken to the military hospital in Homs, along with more than 15 seriously wounded."

A Damascus-based security source had also told AFP that the "army on Thursday controlled 90 percent of Baba Amr, while many of the rebels fled towards Lebanon," noting, however, that pockets of resistance remained.

"There remain pockets of resistance, mainly at Sultaniyeh south of Baba Amr," the source said.

On Wednesday a security source said that regime forces had launched a ground assault on Baba Amr late on Tuesday and that the neighbourhood was "under control."

State television aired footage it said was filmed in Baba Amr, including interviews with people it said were residents angry with the rebels.

The footage included shots of what the broadcaster said were fortifications abandoned by the rebels.

People who spoke on television said they were in the neighbourhood of Juret al-Arayess, which is, according to Abdel Rahman, outside Baba Amr.

The rebel fighters who resisted in Baba Amr were only lightly armed, FSA leader said.

They were up against the heavy artillery of the elite Fourth Armoured Division, which is under the command of Assad's younger brother, Maher.

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