Tensions escalate between Syrian army, NDF in Homs city

AMMAN: The Syrian army entered at least one pro-regime district in Homs city this week after residents reportedly called for protection against certain members of the National Defense Forces (NDF) accused of engaging in Mafia-style behavior.

“The army came to [A-Zahraa] after a number of neighborhood residents and traders asked them to, in order stop some NDF groups from robbing them, creating problems, and conducting kidnappings,” Hussein al-Homsi, the alias of a resident from the adjacent district of al-Armen told Syria Direct Thursday.

While the air force intelligence and military security forces have been trying to arrest NDF leaders in a-Zahraa for days, fighting began in earnest on Tuesday when regular regime forces entered the Alawite-majority neighborhood supported by armored vehicles, reported Hadi al-Abdullah, spokesman for the Syrian Revolution—General Commission, on Wednesday.

Al-Homsi echoed that timeline: “The neighborhood has witnessed intermittent clashes since the beginning of the week, but they heated up over the past two days when we saw military hardware, like Shilka and BMP vehicles, enter the neighborhood.”

After entering a-Zahraa, Syrian army soldiers confiscated a car bomb reportedly being prepared to assassinate the governor of Homs, Talal al-Barazi, wrote Hadi al-Abdullah. The Syrian army clashed with NDF forces, leaving dead and wounded on both sides.

“These groups that belong to the NDF detonate car bombs near goldsmiths' shops in order to steal the gold during the [ensuing] chaos, just as they kidnap people of a-Zahraa and al-Arman neighborhoods and demand large ransom sums,” a pro-regime citizen journalist was quoted by pan-Arab daily al-Hayat as saying Thursday.

The pro-opposition Media Professionals Association of the Revolution in Homs reported that renewed fighting on Wednesday occurred after residents of “more than one pro-regime Alawite neighborhood” refused to send their sons to the NDF to participate in the battles in Idlib province.

Car bombs have repeatedly targeted pro-regime neighborhoods in Homs city, most recently in early April in a-Zahraa, reported pro-opposition AksAlser on April 10. Residents accused National Defense militias of looting stores in the chaos that followed the explosion, reported pro-opposition All4Syria.

In one infamous incident, a twin car bomb attack targeted an elementary school in Alawite-majority al-Akrama neighborhood in Homs last October 1, killing and wounding dozens of children and bringing truce negotiations between the regime and rebels in the holdout district of Al-Waer to a halt.

Both pro-regime and pro-opposition media reported that suicide bombers were responsible for the October attack. Rumors persist that members of the shabiha, who benefit financially from the entrance of goods into besieged Al-Waer, were behind the bombings.

Members of the NDF “want the conflict to continue because they benefit from the revenues from supplies entering into the besieged neighborhood,” unnamed sources were quoted by al-Hayat as saying Thursday, an account matched by that of Syria Direct sources on the ground in Homs, but one that cannot be independently verified.

Osama Abu Zeid

Osama Abu Zeid is a native of Homs, where he served as a media activist and founding member of the Homs Revolutionary Council after the Syrian uprising began in 2011.

Dan Wilkofsky

Dan Wilkofsky was a 2013-2014 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) in Amman, Jordan, where he worked with Talal Abu Ghazaleh Translation and the Ministry of Social Development. He has a BA in Classics (Latin) and Middle East Studies from Brown University.