"We don't have the same capabilities to retaliate with the same power," one of the fighters said. Assad's forces have tanks "and we only have this rifle," he added.
In the Baba Amr neighborhood, doctors at a crowded medical clinic struggled to cope with the dead and wounded. "Bashar is a dog," one man spat as he approached a bed where an injured man was treated.
Outside, bodies wrapped in white sheets were piled on a pickup truck. Despite the risk of attack, residents are still holding funeral processions. One corpse was carried through the streets on a truck on a recent day as mourners recited prayers and fired their guns.
Amateur video posted online by activists Wednesday showed empty streets with black smoke billowing from residential areas, with the sounds of explosions and crackle of gunfire in the background. Women and children are seen running for safety.
"God is great against you, Bashar!" an activist shouted after a shell slammed into a home.
The U.N. estimates that 5,400 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in March. But that figure is from January, when the U.N. stopped counting because the chaos in the country has made it all but impossible to check the figures.
Assad, meanwhile, has played on some of the country's worst fears to rally support behind him, portraying himself as the lone force who can ward off the kinds of radicalism and sectarianism that have bedeviled neighboring Iraq and Lebanon.
Sectarian tensions appear to be growing in Homs, adding a dangerous new element to the violence. Such a divide means an insurgency could escalate quickly.
Many Syrians accuse Assad of exploiting that divide by unleashing Alawite gunmen known as "shabiha" who operate as hired muscle for the regime. The government also blames the bloodshed on armed gangs and extremists acting out a foreign plot to destabilize Syria.
"The regime created this problem between Sunni Muslims and the Alawites. That's why they are giving weapons to Alawites," said 30-year-old Abu Adnan, whose cousin was killed in Homs in recent days.
"He was taking part in a demonstration and shot by the shabiha," Abu Adnan said. "They are criminals. The regime is supplying them with guns to kill people."
Abu Abdel-Aziz, 70, who fled to Jordan with his family two weeks ago, fears his country is descending into an abyss.
"I feel it is becoming even worse than Iraq, day after day," Abdel-Aziz said.
Such an insurgency is perhaps the greatest fear in Syria, home to more than 1 million Iraqi refugees who are a clear testament to the dangers of regime collapse and a religiously divided society.
"The regime is using all kinds of power against the weak," said Abdel-Aziz, who acknowledges feeling bitterness toward Alawites.
"In Homs, the power is for the Alawites. They control everything. The Sunnis are nothing. They don't have any kind of power or dignity. We have more dignity here in Jordan than in our own country," he said.
Aid workers in Mafraq, 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the Syrian border, said many refugees are traveling farther to escape Syria, a sign that the violence is increasing and spreading across the country.
Before, Syrians would cross only if they lived near the border anyway.
"About 80 percent of them come from Homs," said Sheik Khaled Ghanem of the Islamic Charity Center Society, one of the largest providers of government-authorized assistance.
Abdel-Aziz has all but given up on ever going home.
"The regime doesn't care about anybody," he said. "Homs is a tragedy."
Kennedy reported from Beirut. AP writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.