February 25, 2015
Rebel brigades controlling the holdout district of Al-Waer in Homs city allowed a regime-affiliated Syrian news channel into the besieged neighborhood in early February for the first time since the war began.
Al-Waer, home to an estimated 70,000-100,000 civilians, has been completely surrounded by the regime for more than a year and a half.
With the exception of Al-Waer, the regime has completely controlled the provincial capital since mid-2014, when a UN-brokered truce escorted out the last of the armed rebels from the city.
By allowing in the television channel, rebels wanted to show what residents have endured due to the blockade alongside frequent air and ground attacks, said Mohammed al-Homsi, the alias of a media activist in Al-Waer.
The rebels wanted to send the message that citizens in Al-Waer “are not hostile, rather they want a solution and a truce in order to end their suffering,” al-Homsi, who is also a member of the pro-opposition Homs Media Center, tells Syria Direct’s Malek al-Aboud.
Q: How did you get in touch with state television, and how did they enter [al-Waer] without a security escort?
A member of the [rebel] negotiating committee left the neighborhood to meet with the head of the state security branch. The latter justified [regime] bombing that targeted the neighborhood that same day by saying that the bombing was undertaken by individuals [and not the state].
He added that the regime was still waiting for the residents of Al-Waer to begin anew the negotiating process.
The head of the state security branch suggested that the media personality Kanana, the head of the program ‘Syria Debates’ on state television enter the room, and the Al-Waer negotiator met her and heard her point of view around her previous experiences going into areas where truces are in place.
She asked about going into the neighborhood of Al-Waer for the first time, but the negotiator did not give her a promise. He then met with us at night, and got our opinions as media activists and soldiers and sheikhs and civilians. After a long, three-hour discussion that started with refusal, eventually an agreement was reached [that she would enter the neighborhood].
Al-Waer in Homs, earlier this month. Photo courtesy of SPC.
Q: Did the rebels stipulate that no security team would enter with the media?
Yes. All agreed that she should enter the neighborhood and film it as it is, without the usual Syrian media fabrications, under the condition that we film behind her as our right as parties to the conflict, and that we accompany her wherever she went without any security presence with her.
Q: What is the purpose behind regime media entering an opposition-held area?
The interview was not hostile as some people imagined. Our goal was to show the civilized face of life present in the revolution.
Q: What were the topics discussed during the channel’s tour of the neighborhood?
She asked people about their living conditions, and people complained of their pain [because of a lack of] food and medicine.
She asked about how people feel about a reconciliation, and people rejected this term—they said ‘we want a truce or ceasefire; we don’t have faith in the regime’s army and we won’t discard our weapons until the army proves that it is worthy of trust,’ a matter that will take a long time.
She asked about weapons, and why people took up weapons, and is it possible to discard them? Do the residents want militants to leave the area?
In short, people said that those who took up weapons are our sons, the sons of Al-Waer, and said that the tribes had weapons before the revolution. When Al-Waer was under army control, militias of al-Mazraa and A-Raqqa would enter the neighborhood in cars and motorcycles and shoot at people, kill people and run.
I gave her several examples of when these criminal acts occurred.
We prevented massacres from occurring as they did in al-Haswiya and a-Duweir, both adjacent to Al-Waer. Those who bear weapons are our children, there is no one foreign to the area carrying weapons.
Q: How did neighborhood residents respond to this decision [to allow in the media team]?
Everyone came to understand after the neighborhood committee explained to them that the goal is to let the world know that we are not aggressive, and to show the world how badly we are suffering because of the siege.
Q: At the end of the visit, what is the message you wanted them to relay?
That those in Al-Waer are not hostile, rather they want a solution and a truce in order to end their suffering. And that the rebels in Al-Waer are protecting the civilians.
Q: As a media personality inside Al-Waer, what’s your opinion of this visit?
It was necessary in order to put an end to the regime’s excuses around delaying a truce, as most of the people of Al-Waer want one. Also to prove that we’re not monsters who only want war and suffering.
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