May 7, 2014
After nearly three years of fighting, the first round of rebel fighters were bused out of Old Homs on Wednesday under UN supervision and relocated to rebel-held territory in northern Homs province.
Given the surrender of Old Homs based on a truce reached last week, the neighboring district of al-Waer takes on a new importance as the last remaining rebel-controlled neighborhood in Homs proper.
As the last opposition holdout in Syria’s third-largest city, it remains under active regime fire. The area, which lies on Old Homs’ northwestern flank, remains primarily under rebel control despite having been fully encircled by government forces since late last year.
Buses transported the first round of rebel fighters and civilians from Old Homs to rebel-held territory in northern Homs. Photo courtesy of Leverrier Ignace.
One opposition activist told Syria Direct this week that a second round of negotiations regarding al-Waer would begin following rebels’ withdrawal from Old Homs.
“Al-Waer is totally encircled—regime forces are not allowing families to enter or leave,” says Bebars a-Talawi, a citizen journalist based in al-Waer. He tells Syria Direct’s Mohammad al-Haj Ali that “tens of thousands” of civilians remain trapped in al-Waer with only “small amounts” of food entering the district.
Q: How many opposition fighters are located in al-Waer district, and what are they doing?
There are revolutionaries in al-Waer, but the district itself is not totally liberated; there are a number of government forces still located in al-Waer, for example at the police station, al-Bir Hospital, the Homs Hospital, and government judicial installations. So we cannot say that al-Waer district is liberated. In the past there have been clashes between the Shiites located on the edges of al-Waer, who tried to occupy buildings within the district, and the revolutionaries who repelled them.
Q: How many civilians are located in al-Waer?
Tens of thousands.
Q: Is the al-Waer district currently facing bombing from regime forces?
Recently, al-Waer has been subjected to government forces periodically opening fire or dropping mortar shells on various areas. That said, today [Tuesday] al-Waer saw no military action, either gunfire or mortal shells.
Q: Is there any displacement, either to or from al-Waer, because of the way that the district has been targeted?
Al-Waer is totally encircled. Regime forces are not allowing families to enter or leave, with the exception of regime employees.
Q: What is the blockade like? Can food or anything else enter the district?
Small amounts of food enter al-Waer, but they aren’t sufficient to feed all of the families in the district. In addition, food prices are extremely high—double the prices of food sold outside of the district.
Q: Do you think that hunger and malnutrition in Homs were the factors that forced opposition fighters and residents to accept the truce?
Yes, hunger and malnutrition, as well as neglect from the Joint Command and the Coalition and brigades outside of the blockade.
Q: Was hunger the only weapon the regime used in order to put pressure on the besieged families of Homs?
The regime used all types of killing and didn’t succeed, so it resorted to a policy of blockade, starvation and deprivation in order to subjugate the besieged residents of Homs.
Q: From a military perspective, what was the reason behind the surrender of Old Homs?
Despite having besieged the city for 21 months, the regime was unable to advance in any meaningful way. It would progress a few paces, then the revolutionaries would recover the lost ground after hours or days.
But following a long siege and the revolutionaries’ inability to mount a serious military attack due to a lack of any new weapons or ammunition, the revolutionaries were content to hold essential lines of defense along all the major fronts.
Likewise, we will not forget that the revolutionaries of al-Waer and the northern countryside did not conduct any military operations on the ground aiming to break the siege. Therefore, we have witnessed disappointment both from within the city and from outside of it.
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