In Homs, war splits a city’s people


April 28, 2014

April 28, 2014

The Syrian war draws new lines between former friends. Here, a story about a run-in with Air Force Intelligence.

By Osama Abu Zeid

In May 2012, my family fled to Damascus after regime forces took our home during a battle for Bab al-Draib, our neighborhood in Homs. Our streets were being shelled intensely. It would start early in the morning, dropping on us like rain. We also had a hard time going anywhere because of both the shelling and unseen snipers. Tanks sat stationed on street corners.

My family left for the Barzeh district of the Syrian capital, where some of our relatives were living, and rented an apartment there. We later found out that the shabiha, pro-government militias, pillaged the houses in our neighborhood and burned some of them to the ground.

The day they fled, I stayed behind to work as a pro-opposition citizen journalist. I had moved to Old Homs, the Hamidiyeh neighborhood, also an active battlefield.

My cell phone rang. It was a general from the Air Force Intelligence Directorate, who began to speak to me at great length about where my family was going in Barzeh, along with other details about them and myself. I was shocked. He even told me the exact location of the secret place from where I was conducting interviews.

Osama photoOsama Abu Zeid, a reporter with Syria Direct, was a citizen journalist in Old Homs.

“Your family is in Barzeh in Damascus. We know about all their movements. If you care about them, do the following.”

At this moment, I felt a fear that I had never felt before in my life. I asked him what I had to do.

“Cooperate with us and become an informant, or surrender yourself, and I guarantee no one will harm you, and you will be released quickly from prison.”

To buy time, I told him, “give me an opportunity to think. If I decide to work with you, I have to make sure no one finds out about it.”

“You have 24 hours,” he replied.

I immediately contacted my family and asked them to move to rural Homs province, where the FSA controlled a number of villages. Shortly after that, I got a call from the general again.

“You smuggled your family out – if you think you can run from me, I will catch you and shoot you in the mouth.”

The general began to send me messages threatening me, promising to kill me, expressing his hatred for me. “By God, I will drink your blood,” he wrote in one. I finally destroyed my SIM card so as not to be tracked.

The general, I subsequently discovered, was named Abu Maysam. It turns out he was the father of my childhood friend from before the revolution. He never mentioned that he knows me as his son’s friend.

Osama Abu Zeid is a reporter with Syria Direct in Amman, Jordan.

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