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‘Gambling with our lives:’ Pro-regime Homs residents decry security lapses after double bombing

AMMAN: Residents of one Alawite-majority neighborhood in Homs city on […]

22 February 2016

AMMAN: Residents of one Alawite-majority neighborhood in Homs city on Monday sharply criticized the governor and security services over their inability to stop a string of explosions terrorizing residents, one day after a twin car bombing claimed the lives of 57 civilians and soldiers at a regime checkpoint.

“The Homs security committee and governor are gambling with our lives,” a Zahraa resident told Syria Direct on Monday.

Six bombing incidents, some with more than one explosion, have hit Zahraa since mid-2015. Last month, a car bomb and a suicide attack at a regime checkpoint at the edge of Zahraa killed 24 and injured more than 100  people.

Hundreds of residents held days of protests afterwards, burning tires and demanding Governor Barazi’s resignation, reported Syria Direct at that time. A reporter with the pro-regime Assad Homs News Network described “a general mood of outrage emanating from the intensity of the last round of explosions in the neighborhood.”

Zahraa, due east of the Homs city center, is the site of heightened security procedures, including dozens of roadblocks and checkpoints located at the district’s entrances and inside.

And yet, car bombs go off in Zahraa at a pace unmatched in any other pro-regime district in Homs city.

“We’re the only place in Syria that is repeatedly bombed without [security forces] arresting any suspects, although there are security cameras in place,” one resident of a-Zahraa who requested anonymity told Syria Direct Monday.

“There is no confidence in the security forces after Homs has been the target of bombings for more than two years,” the pro-regime reporter, who requested anonymity, told Syria Direct after the last car bombing in January. “Security officials haven’t undertaken a single investigation.”

The Zahraa resident blamed the local security forces and the governor for Sunday’s attack, demanding that “they expose the cells that did it, or at the least reveal how they slipped in and caused the explosions, despite the fact that there are cameras.”

Angry residents jeered Homs Governor Talal Barazi and Interior Minister Mohammed Shaar, who visited Zahraa hours after the twin bombings in the Alawite-majority neighborhood on Sunday. “Our patience is up, it’s reached its limit,” one man shouted at Barazi.

Hemmed in by dozens of protesters pressing in toward his vehicle, Barazi stood with the car door open, trying to subdue the angry residents by repeatedly telling them: “By God, you are right.” Barazi then quickly got into the car, at which point the protestors began shouting in unison: “The people want the governor to fall.” [The video is here.]

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack through its semi-official al-Amaq news agency. The regime also blamed IS [see state-owned Al-Watan’s article here], but the Islamic State has little presence in regime-controlled Homs city or the surrounding countryside. Neither Al-Watan nor the Islamic State have explained how they made it to the checkpoint at the main entrance to the locked-down Alawite district to plant two car bombs.

Some pro-opposition Syrians placed responsibility for the bombing with Shiite militias that have had previously clashed with Syrian army forces in Homs city. In April 2015, the Syrian army stormed Zahraa, where they fought with and arrested members of the National Defence Forces after residents accused the latter of mafia-like behavior, including kidnappings and extortion, Syria Direct reported at the time.

“Everyone knows that the car bombs are coming from Mezraa,” a Shiite-majority village headquartering militias just west of Homs city, a pro-opposition Syrian named Tareq Homsy wrote on Facebook Sunday, a sentiment not uncommon in opposition circles.

The Shiite militias, which appear to function semi-autonomously of the Syrian army, oppose the governor’s policy of conducting truces with rebels, particularly in Homs’s Waer district. 

The militias are against “restoring the state’s prestige… that disappeared at the beginning of the revolution with the regime’s dependence on militias,” Waleed al-Mogharbel, a lawyer and resident of Waer, told Syria Direct Monday.

The militias “want Homs to stay under their control for personal interests, and carrying out the explosions in Zahraa is intended to turn people against the governor,” said al-Mogharbel.

The Zahraa resident who requested anonymity says that the repeated bombings are bringing people to the point where “we can’t bear any more.”

“The neighborhood has started to live a long, terrifying nightmare.”

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