Key Syrian city spirals toward civil war

The New York Times reports:

The semblance of a civil war has erupted in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, where armed protesters now call themselves revolutionaries, gun battles erupt as often as every few hours, security forces and opponents carry out assassinations, and rifles costing as much as $2,000 apiece flood the city from abroad, residents say.

Since the start of the uprising in March, Homs has stood as one of Syria’s most contested cities, its youth among the best organized and most tenacious. But across the political spectrum, residents speak of a decisive shift in past weeks, as a largely peaceful uprising gives way to a grinding struggle that has made Homs violent, fearful and determined.

Analysts caution that the strife in Homs is still specific to the city itself, and many in the opposition reject violence because they fear it will serve as a pretext for the government’s brutal crackdown.

But in the targeted killings, the rival security checkpoints and the hardening of sectarian sentiments, the city offers a dark vision that could foretell the future of Syria’s uprising as both the government and the opposition ready themselves for a protracted struggle over the endurance of a four-decade dictatorship.

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