“The capital of Syrian Revolution” | Devastated buildings in Homs neighbourhoods remain proofs for crimes committed by regime forces and their allies
Regime forces and their proxy militias and allies have mercilessly bombarded residential neighbourhoods of Homs city whose residents have protested Al-Assad’s rule since the onset of the Syrian Revolution in 2011. Although regime forces and their allies managed to capture Homs city in 2014 and to regain the entire province in mid 2018, the destruction of buildings in Homs city, which was caused by violent military operations in Homs city’s neighbourhoods, have remained proofs for atrocities committed against the innocent civilians.
Strategic neighbourhood of Al-Qusour
The considerable destruction, which houses and shops in Al-Qusour neighbourhood in Homs city sustained due to the military operations by airstrikes, tank and artillery fire and barrel bombs, is easily noticed by passengers travelling on Homs-Hama highway, where the neighbourhood’s eastern part overlooks the highway. This destruction also shows the scourge of war which has affected “everyone dared to oppose the rule of the Syrian regime and called for toppling it.”
Regime forces considered the neighbourhood of Al-Qusour as the “most prominent red line” which rebels must not have violated, so regime forces determined not to allow rebel factions to impose their control on the entire strategic neighbourhood. The northern part of Al-Qusour neighbourhood overlooks the air-force intelligence branch and the industrial area, while the north-eastern part overlooks the headquarters of the police and grain mills. Accordingly, the strategic location of the neighbourhood negatively affected the residents, especially when regime forces and opposition factions shared control of the neighbourhood, where each side captured a half. Fearing devastating battles, the neighbourhood’s residents found themselves forced to leave to safer areas.
According to locals who managed to return to the neighbourhood, the number of indigenous inhabitants who lived in Al-Qusour neighbourhood before the Syrian Revolution ranged between 18,000 and 22,000, all Sunnis, while no more 15 percent of people managed to return.
Conditions for admitting “return requests” deprive residents from returning to their houses
The situation in the neighbouring “Al-Khalidiyah neighbourhood” was not much different, where only a road known as “Fares Khouri” separate the neighbourhood of Al-Khalidiyah from Al-Qusour neighbourhood. With its location on the Homs-Hama highway, the residential buildings, houses and bazaars of Al-Khalidiyah neighbourhood, which were a destination for everyone wishing to buy souvenirs and antiques, have been destroyed almost completely.
Unlike Al-Qusour neighbourhood, a grand military checkpoint, affiliated to the state security branch and administrated by Brigade-general “Madin Naddah,” has been established in Al-Khalidiyah neighbourhood for inspecting people who desire to return to their houses.
The population of Al-Khalidiyah neighbourhood had been estimated to be 90,000 people, before the devastating war between opposition factions, which controlled the neighbourhood in the period from 2011 to 2014, and regime forces forced the neighbourhood’s residents to leave, fleeing killing and arbitrary arrests for “supporting the uprising against Al-Assad’s regime.
Speaking to SOHR, a displaced man known as “Abu Mohamed” from Al-Khalidiyah neighbourhood expressed his desire to return to his house in the neighbourhood’s southern part, where his house overlooks “Khalid ibn Al-Walid” mosque. The man explained that the one of his children had left with his friends to north Syria, so “Abu Mohamed” could not obtain a “return permission.” This permission is granted by the state security branch after conducting security checkups of the people who want to rehabilitate their houses in the neighbourhood as a part of preparations for their return. Abu Mohamed added that he wished that he would spend the rest of his life in his house from which he had been forced to leave.
Wadi Al-Sayeh neighbourhood remain devastated, despite “timid” efforts for rehabilitation
The location of Wadi Al-Sayeh neighbourhood is also strategic, as the neighbourhood separates one of the prominent neighbourhoods which was under the control of opposition faction, Al-Khalidiyah neighbourhood, from the rest of the Old Homs city’s neighbourhoods: Al-Hemaydiyah, Bab Al-Sebaa, Bab Houd and Bab Al-Duraib neighbourhoods, which regime forces fought desperately to capture them, especially since they adjacent other pro-regime neighbourhoods. Wadi Al-Sayeh neighbourhood was also the major link for exchange food and ammunition between the two conflicting parties; let alone the symbolic importance of the neighbourhood for the rebels, where it was a few metres away from “Khalid ibn Al-Walid” mosque.
Despite efforts by state media outlets to show that normal life has returned to the neighbourhood, whose population had not exceeded 10,000 people, the considerable destruction and ruins of civilian houses are unrefuted evidence proving the violence and brutality practiced by regime forces, which forced indigenous inhabitants to displace.
A video taken by SOHR activists has showed the considerable destruction in Wadi Al-Sayeh neighbourhood and the “timid” return of residents who are still unable to secure money needed for rehabilitating their houses which have been destroyed because of the war in light of complete suspension of support provided to neighbourhoods whose residents opposed the rule of Al-Assad’s regime.
On the contrary, support has been provided to rehabilitate the neighbourhoods of Al-Zahraa, Al-Arman and Al-Nuzha which were human reservoirs securing a backup for the regime forces and military formations participating in oppressing protestors in Homs.
Predominantly-Christian neighbourhood of “Al-Hemaydiyah” wins largest share of rehabilitation
The violent battles in Al-Hemaydiyah neighbourhood, inhabited mostly by Christian citizens, forced the residents to leave for different areas inside and outside Syria, where most of the Christian civilians headed to their hometown, “Wadi Al-Nasara” (the Christians’ Valley), in the western countryside of Homs and some other villages and town on the Syrian coastline.
After eliminating rebel factions from the neighbourhoods of Old Homs city, Al-Hemaydiyah neighbourhood, which separates the predominantly-Sunni neighbourhoods in the area from Karm Al-Zaytoun neighbourhood in the south to Al-Qusour neighbourhood in the north from the rest of the city, witnessed gradual return of the Christian residents. At that time, Moran Mor Ignatius II, the Christian prelate who has served as the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church since 2014, announced that the officials responsible for the affairs of “Um Al Zennar” Cathedral (Saint Mary of the Holy Belt Cathedral) inside the neighbourhood would sponsor the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the houses affected by the war, with support by the Hungarian government. This step contributed to spurring internally displaced Christians to register for benefiting from the grant.
Regime exacts cruel revenge against residents because of rebel control over Homs four gates
Syrian rebel factions imposed themselves as a major player in the Syrian conflict, and during the battle of existence that lasted for nearly three years, precisely from late 2011 to February 2014, inside the neighbourhoods of Old Homs, the factions showed that they were a powerful opponent to regime forces and their proxy militias. Specifically, regime forces and their allies failed then to advance into the rebel-controlled neighbourhoods: Bab Al-Sebaa, Bab Al-Durayb and Bab Houd, because of the strong buildings which are famous for special architectural art and decorated with basalt stones, as well as the fierce resistance by rebel factions.
In February 2014, an agreement was reached between the regime governor of Homs at that time, “Talal Al-Barazi,” and the rebels, according to which nearly 4,500 rebels and their families were evacuated to Al-Wa’er neighbourhood which was under the control of opposition factions in the northern countryside of Homs. The agreement was sponsored by the representative of the United Nations, “Ya’qoub Al-Helw,” who was then in the capital, Damascus.
An estimated proportion has showed the return of 35% of residents to pro-regime neighbourhoods, while hundreds of non-indigenous families who have inhabited in the houses of their relatives, who have left Syria or could not obtain permission to return for security issues, are excluded.
The violent battles in Homs neighbourhoods prevented all parties and organisations from reaching an accurate number of the people who were besieged in the neighbourhoods of Bab Al-Sebaa, Bab Al-Durayb and Bab Houd. However, the United Nations announced, in a report it issued on February 9, 2014, that nearly 240,000 people were besieged across Syria; they were distributed as follows:
- 175,000 in eastern Ghouta.
- 45,000 in Aleppo.
- 22,000 in Homs.