Reporting from the Syrian city of Homs, FRANCE 24 finds the abandoned Sunni district of Baba Amr in ruins, while life is limping back to normal in the loyalist neighbourhood of Zahra under the careful watch of Syrian troops.
Standing on a street that has been dubbed “sniper alley” in the Baba Amr district of Homs, Ahed, a Syrian special forces officer, surveys the neighbourhood through his enormous sunglasses and issues a welcome.
“For anyone who wants to return to his home, their houses are still there and they can return and live with dignity,” said Ahed, who declined to provide his full name. “The Syrian army will bring them food or drink and everything they need.”
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On this sunny autumn day, Ahed’s sunglasses are obviously rose-tinted.
Sagging around him like ice-cream structures melting in the sun, the buildings, pockmarked by fighting, are crumbling in advanced stages of decay.
Baba Amr, once the symbolic enclave of the Syrian resistance, shot into the international spotlight over a year ago when noted international journalist Marie Colvin and French photojournalist Rémi Ochlik were killed here in heavy fighting in February 2012.
Thousands of miles away from the diplomatic breakthroughs in tidy European cities and Western capitals, the international deals have not made a dent in Syrian opposition strongholds – or former strongholds.
Today, the district is under Syrian regime control, but there’s not much a district to return to, let alone a chance to live in dignity.
Ahed, a young Alawite officer, lost his father four months ago during the fighting in the strategic Qusair area. As a member of the same minority Shiite community as President Bashar al-Assad, Ahed’s loyalty to the regime is absolute. He wants to believe life is returning to normal right here, in the middle of the destruction.
A wall replaces curtains for protection
In the majority Alawite area of Zahra, the streets are packed with vehicles maneouvering around pickup trucks packed with Syrian soldiers and fighters loyal to Assad.
Only a fifth of the original 800,000-odd inhabitants of Syria’s third-largest city remain and most of them are concentrated in the loyalist areas, protected by the army.
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It appears to have worked even though rebels are stationed barely two kilometres away. Women in jeans and T-shirts, their heads uncovered, go about their daily shopping. Young men mill around on parked motorbikes and the children try a “Hello, hello” in rudimentary English.
“Before, we would hang fabric curtains to protect people crossing the street,” said Alexander Hussein el Qassem, a Zahra shopkeeper. “But the snipers saw their shadows and would shoot. Now, with the wall, people can cross. But it doesn't stop the rockets.”
El Qassem points to a hole in a wall of his shop, which bears the official portrait of Assad. “This is from a sniper’s bullet. They shot people doing their shopping,” he explained.
As night falls, fighting starts up in Homs's western suburbs. In the distance, tracer bullets light up the sky. From the minarets, the muezzin call to pray gets muffled by the gunfire. Life is not returning to normal in this city.
Date created : 2013-09-15