Not one day passes in Syria without attention focusing on Homs and its countryside — the country’s largest province, which is adjacent to Damascus, the Lebanese border and the Syrian coast.
Nevertheless, this attention will be even increasingly directed toward Homs in light of the latest developments in the city of Qusair, which was reclaimed by the Syrian regime forces.
The regime’s forces have besieged parts of Homs’ neighborhoods, where a number of Syrian opposition fighters have been taking refuge for almost a year, alongside many families. Meanwhile, Homs’ northern countryside has been seeing ongoing clashes, paving the way for a military operation in conjunction with the fronts of Aleppo and Ghouta, Damascus.
One year of peace … two years of armed clashes
Homs’ tale of the [revolutionary] movement is like that of no other region. Homs did not take long to follow in the footsteps of Daraa, the Damascus countryside and the rest of the cities and towns.
However, in Homs, sectarian incitement has begun to spread increasingly among individuals and groups whose only concern is to incite murder and genocide in an orderly manner. The people of the Orontes River managed to quell the flames of sectarianism for a while. Yet, the sleeping giant did not take long to come back, but this time with loads of arms.
Many activists from the streets talk about offers by the political opposition abroad to finance any battalion that might be formed. This unleashed a range of military groups declaring that they have been working under the banner of protecting the peaceful demonstrations.
Nevertheless, the truth has slowly emerged, revealing deep splits within the battalions, which were soon divided into groups just for show, working only to please their funders. Other groups lacked organization, and chaos soon became their trademark. The most rational, serious and reasonable voices of the revolution have become absent from “the revolutionary work,” or have been forced to do so, according to activists.
This has coincided with the growth of a media war, whose ultimate goal was to blow things out of proportion and make judgments and appeals, which seemed more similar to suppliant calls, before the regime launched its military operation in Baba Amr, where it managed to regain control.
The regime forces have also made their way through Bab al-Sabaa, entering the Ghouta region, and besieging the old city in Homs and Khalidiya, where a number of opposition fighters and their families have been taking refuge.
The activists’ calls to lift the siege of Homs were to no avail. The more severe the siege became, the deeper the divide grew in the ranks of armed battalions, which continued to turn a blind eye to rescuing their comrades, and other neighborhoods that were re-seized by the regime, such as Deir Baalaba.
Meanwhile, the majority of the people in these regions have moved to safer areas and neighborhoods, including al-Waar, Bab Huda and villages in Homs’ northern countryside, such as Talbiseh and Rastan, which have been seized by the armed opposition and therefore have become a constant target for the regime’s military operations.
Some field sources expect the regime to launch a massive operation to take control of Rastan, after having tightened its grip on the city of Qusair and its countryside, which used to serve as a wide-support and supply station for the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Life to the sound of tanks
Despite everything that has happened and continues to happen in Homs, life still goes on and is closer to normal in areas that kept themselves away from clashes. University students are likely to take their exams despite the high risks, which begin with kidnapping and sniping, and go beyond accusations of treason hurled at them on their way back — all this taking place to the sound of rocket launchers and mortars pounding the FSA strongholds.
Kidnapping is also a different story in Homs. According to Abdul Majid, a 24-year-old college student, “The moment you step outside your front door, you are immediately at risk of being kidnapped by any party whatsoever. You will also be at the mercy of kidnappers, who may require extravagant amounts of money and sometimes in hard cash. Thus, there is no guarantee that you would be released. Some kidnappers could demand to exchange you with another prisoner from another group, or could execute you right away just because you belong to a different neighborhood or sect.”
In response to the question about what makes people stay in dangerous areas like this, Abdul Majid answered, “Who would feed our children? Who would provide us with income? We, the people of Homs, are forced to dig deep to eat.”
Basel, a 27-year-old employee, talked about another aspect of horror haunting people, which is the random shelling and car bombs that have become more common in the somewhat safe areas, such as al-Waar.
The young man emphasized the frequent explosions and unending shellings targeting civilians. He did not accuse any specific side, but blamed the armed battalions, which pride themselves on issuing announcements of having liberated Homs without having what it takes to do so. They settle for a few strikes on the regime’s army checkpoints, which would cost the people of the region a high price.
In light of these events, Homs has been facing a severe shortage of medical personnel and materials. However, things do not end there. According to Jamil, a 29-year-old teacher, al-Waar, for instance, is a neighborhood that accommodates a huge number of displaced persons — more than 600,000. Thus, any potential battle could result in a high human cost, not to mention the lack of services and economic misery due to the loss of sources of livelihood. What’s more, some displaced people might run out of funds and not find any other solution but to return to settle in Homs once again.
Who would fix the revolutionary movement in Homs?
Another crisis no less dangerous than the living conditions in Homs imposes itself. It is the crisis of the “revolution” itself. Many reporters, activists and even FSA fighters complain about the fact that Homs has been floundering more than any other city, according to a media activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
He said that chaos has been rife in the media in Homs. This has clearly been evidenced in journalists’ blunders a year and half ago during the battle of Baba Amr. Reporters have exaggerated the importance of the region, saying that “the [FSA] has been winning one battle after another.” Some of them have gone as far as to raise slogans saying, “Qusair has not and will not fall.” Meanwhile, satellite channels have been showing the clear progress of the regime’s army, which managed to fully seize the region.
Another activist spoke about this “media hype.”
“Some filmed themselves saying they were on their way to Qusair, but in fact few actually made it there,” he said.
He also said that another plight has hit Homs, as many media activists have been keen to offer satellite channels the latest scoop. Statements and rumors about new plans and repositioning on the part of the armed opposition have become rife. This came to the benefit of the regime, which made further progress in Qusair. In this way, the scenario of Baba Amr has played out once again.
When asked about what actually happened, everybody was reluctant to give answers. They all confirmed that the coming days will reveal the truth behind the stories of confusion and abandonment that have hit most comrades in arms.