May 14, 2014
Earlier this month, Syrian government and opposition forces in Old City of Homs reached a ceasefire agreement allowing rebel fighters to surrender themselves in exchange for safe passage to opposition-held areas in northern Homs province. The agreement gave regime forces full control of the 13 neighborhoods of Old Homs and placed new focus on the neighboring district of al-Waer, Homs’s most populated district and now the last rebel holdout in Syria’s third largest city.
Since last week’s evacuation of Old Homs, the Syrian army has launched a full-blown assault on al-Waer, with opposition sources reporting a complete blockade and ongoing bombardment from mortar and tank shells, heavy machine guns and snipers.
Government forces have bombarded Homs’s al-Waer since rebels evacuated Old Homs last week. Photo courtesy of Syrians News.
The FSA, currently holding al-Waer, is stronger on the ground than the regime, says Hassan Abu a-Zain, an al-Waer-based spokesman for Homs’s Youth Coalition of the Revolution. While the regime can’t take the district with a ground assault, Abu a-Zain says, “it can shell any area or any building that it wants.” Al-Waer’s population density given that it has received thousands of displaced Homsis in recent months could yield devastating consequences if the regime assault intensifies, Abu a-Zain tells Osama Abu Zeid.
“If shelling occurred similar to that in Old Homs,” he says, “there would be ten times more dead.”
Q: Was al-Wa’er included in the truce that occurred in Old Homs? Was it among the terms of the truce agreement?
Since the beginning of the agreement that led to the evacuation of fighters from Old Homs to the north, the district of al-Wa’er had a role to play. The agreement calls for the delivery of food and medical aid to the neighborhood and a truce to last three months. The truce guarantees a full cease-fire and the opening of all roads so aid may enter the neighborhood.
But after the fighters left [Old Homs] and the opposition handed over the regime’s prisoners, the regime violated the truce and bombed al-Wa’er with mortar and tank shells—the bombing has continued for two days. The regime is trying hard to gain control of al-Waer because it is the last neighborhood in the city that is under FSA control.
Q: Do you think the FSA can maintain its presence in al-Wa’er?
The FSA is much stronger than the regime on the ground. The regime can’t storm the district by land, but it can shell any area or any building that it wants—it can’t advance. This is what we’re afraid of because the neighborhood is densely populated with civilians. This means that if shelling occurred similar to that in Old Homs, there would be ten times more dead.
Q: Can you discuss the humanitarian conditions in al-Waer in light of the ongoing regime siege of the district?
The regime had partially blockaded the neighborhood for seven months, which led to widespread hunger in every sense of the word, because the neighborhood doesn’t have any strategic reserves of food or medicine. There is fear of a humanitarian catastrophe if the neighborhood is besieged like Old Homs.
Q: Do you think that the FSA might pursue a truce similar to the one reached in Old Homs?
There is a possibility that could happen, but there is no talk about it at the moment.
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