Eyewitness in blockaded Homs: “the regime is using people as human shields”


July 3, 2013

Yaman Abu Fouad, 33,was born in the Old City of Homs. Before the revolution Abu Fouad was a mathematics teacher and he now volunteers for the Consolidated Media Office in Homs.  He discusses the siege of Syria’s third largest city with Ahmed Kwider.

Q: What do you hear and see in besieged Homs today, describe for me the scene from your position?

A: Civilians in Homs woke up today to the sound of shelling. The regime bombarded us with from the loyalist neighborhoods, with a continuous sweep by snipers positioned atop the towers surrounding our besieged neighborhoods. [There were also] attempts to storm Bab Houd and Wadi Al-Sayeh, with skirmishes on the outskirts of Jouret Shiyah and Khaldiya.

Q: How do you know that there were attempts to storm the neighborhoods that you mentioned?

A: By the Syrian Army and the Hezbollah militias’ use of weapons that they generally use prior to such raids. Afterward, elements of Assad’s army will infiltrate the revolutionaries’ positions, [facilitated by] the chaos that these weapons cause and the dust impedes vision. During this time, they will also carry out shelling with tanks or other vehicles.

Q: What is the nature of the blockade that the regime is imposing on the Old City of Homs?

A: The siege is a collar surrounding 14 neighborhoods of Homs. The regime forces have taken control over some of the surrounding neighborhoods in the Old City and the neighborhoods of Khaldiyah, Jouret Shiyah, and Al-Qarabeid, which was liberated nearly two and a half months ago. And in these neighborhoods under its control, the regime is using people as human shields, namely the opposition neighborhoods like Al-Ghouta, Wa’er, Bab Al-Saba’a, Jabel Jandali, Al-Bayda, and other neighborhoods that make up this ring. It uses both vehicles and heavy weaponry to reinforce the ring, namely T72 tanks.

There are also towers upon which snipers with 14.5-caliber machine guns are positioned, who are able to monitor almost all the roads inside besieged Homs from their position.

The regime is cracking down on families inside the blockade by cutting off water and electricity, which was only restored today from existing underground wells in our neighborhoods and small electricity generators that work on diesel, which themselves are nearly depleted due to the near exhaustion of diesel stores. This forces us to strictly ration.

Q: Which regime forces play a role in the siege and how many are there?

A: The regime forces are what remains of Syrian Army soldiers, in addition to the National Defense Force, otherwise known as the shabiha, that the Assad regime has given legitimacy to fight the Syrians, along with Iranian “experts” and Hezbollah forces, plus other soldiers from Turkey who were spotted in Qasour alongside Air Force intelligence. [These] mercenaries work under the banner of the regime army, along with others of Iraqi citizenship. A number of them (the Syrian Army) were present [here] during various stages of the siege, and sometimes their number is small as a result of mass defections.

There were periods during which their number was small, so the regime compensated by increasing the tanks and intensifying the missile shelling, and there were days when we saw more than 400 shells dropped.

Q: Tell me about the people of blockaded Homs – what is their number now and how many have fled during the past year?

A: There are about 800 urban families remaining in blockaded Homs today, some of them are Christians who suffer with us through the blockade, but the number of these families remaining is small compared to the number of people who fled the city. The majority evacuated during the past year, following the destruction of most of the city.

Q: How can these families be counted and what is the original number of people in besieged/blockaded Homs?

A: The percentage of families remaining does not constitute 1% of the original number. The original total population of the Homs province was around 2.5 million, with about 800,000 concentrated in the Old City, Jouret Shayeh, Khaldiya, Qasour, and Qarabeid. The original number was 800,000 and the number now, including citizens and fighters, is around 6500-7000 people.

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