Former rebel stronghold Homs a shadow of its old self
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Clashes have continued in Homs, though the Syrian army now controls most of the town and only one-fifth of the original population remains. Many Sunnis, generally supportive of the rebels, have stayed away. FRANCE 24’s Selim El Meddeb reports.
The road to the western Syrian city of Homs is mostly deserted, with rebel rockets littering the way and gunfire sounding near the town of Nabek.
Though hills outside of Homs are held by rebels, the town once dubbed the “capital of the revolution” is today mostly controlled by the Syrian army.
Neighbourhoods like Bab Sbaa, once filled with Sunnis who supported the opposition, have been emptied of their inhabitants.
Explaining a technique used by rebels to avoid circulating in the street, Kasser, a Syrian soldier, pointed to large holes on the sides of houses. “Rebel gunmen knocked through these holes to they could pass from house to house and attack the army,” he told FRANCE 24’s special correspondent, Selim El Meddeb. “But we drove them out. Now, the situation is returning to normal, bit by bit.”
When the army re-took control of Bab Sbaa last year, the Mreij mosque was damaged. Kasser alleges that Assad loyalists were tortured by rebels in the mosque, a claim that is impossible to verify.
He blames religious radicalisation for the actions of the rebels.
Another soldier, Ali, echoed that sentiment. “They hide beneath the cover of Islam,” he told FRANCE 24. “But when you see their actions, you feel they're a different people, a barbaric people. Is this their Islam? Which Islam are they talking about?”
Very few families have returned to Bab Sbaa.
But one resident, Hassan, came back to live here eight months ago. His two-year-old daughter has never known her country at peace.
“Everyone fears for their children,” he said. “But now that the Syrian army has arrived, we're more secure. I've got no choice but to stay here; I don't have the money to leave and rent somewhere else.”
Homs had close to a million residents before the Syrian crisis erupted in March 2011.
Today, no more than 200,000 people are left.