Homs: What’s Left of the Cradle of the Syrian Uprising?

Homs: What’s Left of the Cradle of the Syrian Uprising?

Saturday, 17 February, 2018 - 12:30
Destruction in Homs. Asharq Al-Awsat
Homs - Asharq Al-Awsat
Seven years into the war in Syria, the cradle of the uprising against Bashar Assad has devastated neighborhoods in what is seen as “Syria’s Stalingrad”, while pro-regime residents lead normal lives in other parts of the city.

South of Homs, a former symbol of the rebellion, traffic is limited and most shops are closed. Destroyed buildings and lack of regime services are also a clear sign that only a handful of people have returned.

Homs had a population of 800,000 before the war. But it witnessed heavy fighting between regime forces and rebels before they and their families were driven out in May 2015.

More than 80 percent of the Old City is devastated. A displaced resident told Asharq Al-Awsat that the regime “turned it into Syria’s Stalingrad.”

“The regime doesn’t want to rebuild it,” another man said. He doubted that Bashar Assad would allow the residents to return if the city was rebuilt.

“All of them (the residents) are rebels, he (Assad) holds a grudge against them,” the man told the newspaper.

Around 30 percent of buildings are destroyed in areas that lie near the Old City.

But the regime has prevented residents to carry out renovation works and return home, another displaced man said. “The market is also still empty.”

While the Old City has a few signs of life, across town streets are bustling with life. The pro-Assad district of Zahraa and others enjoy electricity and services. Schools are also open.

The sectarian gap between the residents of Homs is also remarkable. Gunmen from pro-regime neighborhoods have committed atrocities against the rebellious areas, leaving scores of people dead and injured.

A civil society activist told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Sunni population of Homs will not forget what happened.

A man in his 60s also said that the Sunni residents fear for their lives because regime forces always raise doubt about their affiliation and their stances from Assad.

The shabiha, or regime gunmen, have expelled pro-rebel families who have been living in these neighborhoods for years, another man said.

The immoral behavior of the shabiha and regime forces have kept many away from their homes.

A taxi driver, who was displaced from Homs to Damascus, says whenever he visits his hometown, he does not dare to enter pro-regime neighborhoods alone.

A mechanic also told Asharq Al-Awsat that he couldn’t keep his shop open for long after the shabiha forced him to repair their cars without paying him.

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