Rebels sent a wave of rockets slamming into regime strongholds in the central city of Homs on Thursday, triggering a succession of massive explosions in a weapons depot that killed at least 40 people and wounded dozens, an opposition group and residents said.
The attack — one of the most potent against pro-government districts in the area — overshadowed a rare trip by President Bashar Assad to a former opposition bastion outside the capital, Damascus, during which he defiantly vowed in front of troops to defeat the rebels fighting to topple him.
The huge explosion in the Homs district of Wadi Dahab delivered a jolt to Assad’s regime, which for weeks has been boasting of achievements against the rebels in the strategic Homs region and the suburbs of Damascus.
“The achievements on the ground speak for themselves,” Assad told soldiers in Daraya, a few kilometers (miles) south of the capital. “Without you we would all be slaves to the countries that want to subjugate us. But the Syrian people will never be slaves. Not in the past, present or future,” he said.
The attack in Homs targeted the neighborhoods of Zahra, Akrama and Wadi Dahab, which are all populated mostly by Alawites, the same sect as Assad.
It showed that rebels fighting to oust Assad are still able to strike back despite significant advances by the military that have bolstered the confidence of the regime.