Inside Syria´s broken city of Homs (TELEGRAPH UK) By Richard Spencer, Homs 05/02/12)
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The eccentricity of terror is drawn in dust-covered colours in the
homes of Baba Amr.
The neat blast hole in the ceiling of one family´s dining room was
sufficient explanation for the broken furniture and rubble with which
it was filled. Wires dangled loosely. Against one wall stood a chest,
its glass front shattered. But inside, the neat row of inverted
Turkish coffee cups, eight red and eight yellow, sat unmoved and
undamaged. There was even an intact light-bulb sitting on top.
The chest could be a symbol of the whole city of Homs, the focal
point of the Syrian uprising. Parts are in good enough order, apart
from painted-over graffiti. The five-star hotel that is the new base
of the United Nations monitors is empty but smart and functioning.
Yet from a few hundred yards´ distance comes the sound of automatic
gunfire, and a two-minute drive away you are on what remains a hot
front line despite the dominance of regime forces and despite the
ceasefire the monitors are here to observe.
And in this compact town, the destroyed streets of Baba Amr, scene of
one of the conflict´s heaviest and deadliest bombardment, are a short
Along the main thoroughfares, the blackened holes of the apartment
buildings stare down at the piles of broken bricks and burned out
cars. Each building has its own sign of war – the smashed shutters of
the shopfronts, the collapsed roof, the bedroom exposed to the
Stepping inside stirred a further eddy of dust from the crumbling
At first, it seemed like an empty film set. But we walked on, among
the first journalists allowed in since the end of one of the most
fearsome sieges of modern times, the few hundred residents who have
not fled peered out from their broken walls.
A handful of black-clad women clustered around an outpost of the Red
Crescent. A few more gathered around a man who had been allowed by
the army to bring in a small selection of vegetables.
Children pointed excitedly to the ruins, their new playground,
running in and out of the piles of detritus.
Few people were prepared to talk, but one man was upset enough on
learning he was talking to a Briton to damn the perfidy of David
Cameron, who had seemed to want to help but had "done nothing".
"He is a liar, a liar," he said. "It was just talk, talk, talk.
Nobody helped us. The whole world was against us."
Another man described how he had been held in prison for 50 days –
though not long enough to avoid the savagery of February´s
bombardment that finally drove the Free Syrian Army´s Farouq
Battalion from the suburb. It was a humiliating retreat which may
have marked the turning point of this war.
"Every day for thirty days the shells came. They started at six in
the morning and ended at eight at night. In between, there was not a
Ask where the FSA went, and there is a nervous silence. Some things
still can´t be discussed. "We lived here, they killed us, and they
will kill us," said one resident, succinctly. The army SUVs and
pickup trucks come in threes, driving without stopping down the
centre of the road.
But it is no secret where the "armed groups" went. Many went to
Khaldiyah, which touches on the city centre and which, though heavily
shelled, seems a tougher nut to crack.
Walk up from the clock tower in the central square, between the
governor´s offices and the Lord Suites Hotel – "spotlessly clean and
modern" according to the Lonely Planet guide, a comic thought now –
and soon the bullets are cracking. From a side street comes the thud
of a rocket-propelled grenade.
It is not clear why: there is no advance on either side, and regime
officials may be right in claiming some of the firing is for show, to
herald the monitors´ arrival.
The heaviest shooting, though, is at night, long after the monitors
have retreated to their hotel.
An army major reckons there are 4,000 fighters holed up in the suburb.
That, too, contradicts the official line that the FSA is nothing more
than a handful of criminals, bolstered by foreign fighters and
But then the official line is flexible, and perhaps has to be now the
monitors are here to see for themselves. The government is now
prepared to admit it shares in the responsibility for the disaster
that has befallen a city where now smashed open-air cafés and rooftop
restaurants speak of a more relaxed past.
The governor of Homs, Ghassan Abdul-Al, looked embarrassed as he
claimed the army´s treatment of Baba Amr was proportionate to the
rebels´ use of rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and small arms.
But he was only appointed a year ago, after his predecessor was
sacked because of his initial response to the protests, and he was
prepared to go beyond the standard formula that "some mistakes were
He hoped things might have been different if he had been in
charge. "I think I might have been less aggressive," he
said. "Because we see – and as you find – there is a big reason for
this uprising. We did not serve the people, not as they should be."
For Syria to serve the people of Homs now seems almost impossible. Mr
Abdul-Al said there were plans to redevelop Baba Amr – the reason, he
said, pictures of a brieze-block wall along one side of the suburb
have circulated the internet. It is not a "New Berlin Wall", he said,
but merely a replacement for a protective barrier by the railway line.
Baba Amr certainly looks like a place that needs to be levelled. But
before anything new can rise from the ashes, its people must be
reconciled to those who reduced it to this state. That task lies
beyond the building of walls. (© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group
Limited 2012. 05/02/12)
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