July 2, 2013
By Ahmed Kwider and Jacob Wirtschafter
Assad forces pressed an advantage in firepower over rebels in the urban core of Homs striking provincial towns north of the city as opposition supporters lamented the lack of weaponry to defend their blockaded neighborhoods and worried over the imminent fall of Syria’s third largest city.
“Bashar Assad controls the countryside south of Homs and everybody knows he is working on a Alawite state,” said Abu al Huda, a member of the Local Coordination Council in A-Rastan, strategically situated at the midpoint of the M1Highway between Damascus and Aleppo.
“Now the regime is trying everything to take Homs and the towns to its north,” Abu al Huda said.
The government’s campaign in Homs combines air and ground efforts in coordination with Hezbollah fighters who joined the battle for the strategic crossroads of Syria last month in the town of Qusair.
“MIG jets are dropping a variety of missiles on the city, which is visible to me, in addition to violent shelling of entire besieged neighborhoods as well as the northern suburbs,” said Khadir Al-Khashfa, a 27 year old student from Dar Al-Kabir, a village seven kilometers north of Homs.
“The regime closed all entrances to the city, dug barriers on all roads, and cut communications yesterday. Of course they only allow the shabiha to enter or leave,” added Al-Khashfa.
“Homs has not received any genuine weapons or ammunition since last year.”
“It is a disaster area in every sense,” he said.
Activists say regime bombardment has reached up to 25 or 30 mortar shells per hour with fumes from the constant explosions further endangering residents.
“For three days the shelling has been violent to such a degree that we have many injured among us and the field hospital situation is very difficult, and there is a shortage of all kinds of medicines,” said Muhammad Abu Bilal, a resident of the besieged central district of Bab Houd.
Abu Billal said his family takes its meals in the cellar with the sound of tanks, gun and mortar fire and as a constant background noise.
State-run news agency SANA reported that “armed forces continued pursuing the armed terrorist groups” in Abu Billal’s Bab Houd neighborhood in Homs city.
According to SANA, “scores of terrorists were killed and injured in the area and took control of scores of buildings that were used by terrorists as hideouts to store weapons and launch terrorist attacks.”
Like most of the Sunni residents of Islamist-leaning central Homs, Abu Bilal views the Nusra Front as an essential part of the anti-Assad coalition.
“Yesterday, a group from Jabhat Al-Nusra managed to kill 15 of the regime’s shabiha,” said the 24-year-old activist, who sees the Islamist group aligning its activity with other opposition militias.
“Jabhat Al-Nusra are our people and brothers here in Homs and there is coordination with them on military front,” said Abu Bilal.
Zaine al Abine, a jihadist fighter in the Allah Akbar Brigade in Homs disputes the notion of broad collaboration between the broad spectrum of armed opposition groups.
“The other brigades are totally paralyzed,” said al Abine who alleges corruption and defeatism in the FSA and independent Al Farouk battalions that he labels the “brigades of tactical withdrawal.”
“I’m not in the habit of doing cosmetic surgery on reality. The delivery of Homs to the regime is in full swing.”
With additional reporting by Abulrahman al-Masri