April 17, 2014
On Tuesday, pro-government media announced an incremental advance into the neighborhoods of Jourat al-Shiah and al-Hamadiyeh in Old Homs: the pro-government National Defense Forces militias seized 15 buildings.
But the reported advance, a matter of meters, carry far greater symbolic value: the 13 neighborhoods of Old Homs, once the heart of the peaceful anti-regime protests that sparked the Syrian conflict, have been encircled by government forces for 674 days.
In February, a temporary United Nations-brokered truce allowed 1,400 citizens to evacuate the starving city. Since, government media has reported dozens of rebel fighters have surrendered themselves, broken by starvation.
The possibility for another truce now seems remote. “It is a matter of deep regret that negotiations were brutally stopped and violence is now rife again when a comprehensive agreement seemed close at hand” in Homs, UN Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi Thursday said in a statement on Thursday.
Also on Thursday, rebels remaining inside the encircled area continue to cling to the 13 neighborhoods they control, claiming to have repelled the government advance. But how long can they hang on? Osama Abu Zeid, a native of Bab al-Dreid in rebel-controlled Homs, puts the question to Abu al-Joud, a citizen journalist and head of the pro-opposition Homs al-Hadath News Network.
Q: Will Homs fall?
If the humanitarian situation remains the same, continuing to go from bad to worse…but the regime was taught a lesson today and yesterday, as a number of its soldiers fell. Now, the shelling has returned but there is [no attempt to] seize, and there is not a meter of advance. But if no support comes from battalions outside of [Old Homs], the situation will get worse.
Citizens walk amidst debris following a Syrian air force strike on Old Homs. Photo courtesy of Homs Media Field.
Q: Regime media is broadcasting that the government has advance in al-Hamidiyeh and Jourat a-Shiah. Is this true?
No. The regime is attempting to advance in Old Homs from four directions, or axes, but it has not succeeded. It has not advanced a single meter.
The axes are Jourat al-Shiah, Wadi al-Sayeh, Bab Tadmur and Bab Houd.
Q: Amidst all these reports of rebels surrendering themselves to the government, how many fighters are left inside Old Homs?
A: There are enough. It is true, we are currently suffering from a lack of fighters. But the area that we control has become very small, so we do not need thousands of fighters [to defend it].
Q: Where are regime forces concentrated around Old Homs?
[Regime forces] are concentrated in buildings and houses. The shelling is around the clock, [normal] before any attempt to seize the city. The regime is using all type of weapons. [Earlier this week,] 150 explosive cylinders were used, there were two air raids and hundreds of mortar artillery shells were fired.
Q: There was a brief truce that failed, after which a number of individual rebels surrendered themselves in exchange for [negotiated] settlements. Now, we hear talks of a new truce or agreement. What’s the truth of this?
Yes. Some people felt weak and surrendered themselves, mostly for reasons we can excuse – they could not bear the food scarcity. There are many who have remained steadfast, up until now. Of course, there are people surrendering themselves, but the number is not that big. I estimate an average of two individuals surrender themselves daily.
Regarding the truce there were calls from some of the leaders in brigades about the regime securing a safe road for everyone to exit the besieged area toward the northern suburbs of Homs and under the support of the UN. We were not surprised by the regime attack yesterday.
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