In this Monday March 25, 2013, citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, anti-Syrian regime protesters burn a portrait for Syrian President Bashar Assad during a protest, in Aleppo, Syria. Syrian activists say government forces have seized control of a neighborhood in the central city of Homs that is a symbol of opposition to President Bashar Assad's regime. The Arabic on the poster reads, the dog of Iran, devil's party (Hezbollah)." (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC)
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government forces have seized control of a long-contested neighborhood in the central city of Homs that is considered a symbol of opposition to President Bashar Assad's regime, anti-regime activist said Tuesday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that government forces pushed rebels from Baba Amr after two weeks of clashes, shelling and airstrikes that destroyed many homes.
The Syrian state news agency SANA said Monday that government forces had "restored security and stability" to the neighborhood.
Baba Amr, a poor neighborhood in southwest Homs, emerged early in the uprising as a symbol of the rebel movement, first for its protests and later for the armed groups who held it against regime troops.
While not strategically important in the two-year civil war, the loss of Baba Amr is a symbolic blow to the rebels.
The government seized the neighborhood in March of last year after months of daily shelling that damaged much of the area and killed hundreds, including two foreign journalists who had sneaked into the area to report on the siege.
It has changed hands a number of times since, with rebels saying early this month that they had taken advantage of a regime security lapse to take it back and set up checkpoints.
The regime has ample heavy weapons and a fleet of fighter jets but a shortage of ground troops, meaning it often abandons areas to rebel forces then pounds them with artillery and airstrikes from afar, sometimes forcing rebel retreats.
It also frequently claims to have "secured" areas only to report months later that it "secured" them again, with little explanation of how rebels got back in.
Also Tuesday, the Observatory said that at least 13 charred bodies, including those of four children and five women, were found on the outskirts of the village of Abil, southwest of Homs city.
The group, which relies on a network of contacts inside Syria, circulated a video that showed charred and disfigured bodies laid out on sheets. Some had holes in their heads and others appeared to have had their throats slit.
The video appeared authentic and corresponded with other reporting by The Associated Press.
The Observatory said local activists blamed the killings on pro-government thugs.
The Syrian government does not respond to requests for comment and did not mention the killing in official media.
The U.N. says more than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria since the crisis started in March, 2011, with political protests against Assad's rule. It has since become a civil war, with hundreds of independent rebel groups fighting Assad's forces across the country.
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