Voices from inside Homs – by Alastair Beach, Justin Vela
Syrians trapped in the besieged city feeling the wrath of Assad’s brutal regime reveal the full horror of his determination to destroy his enemies
« There are rockets raining down on many neighbourhoods and bodies buried under rubble. It’s absolutely impossible to go out – Homs is surrounded and besieged. Snipers on the rooftops are shooting anyone who goes out on the street. » – Amir
« The army that is supposed to protect us is killing us. You cannot walk in the streets, you cannot go out. At the same time if you stay they will bomb and demolish your house. You cannot walk in the streets, you cannot go out. » – Ali Osman
« The situation is very bad: government soldiers have surrounded the area and are bombing us hour by hour. I wish someone would help us. They are killing and wounding us. We want a solution now. » – Waleed Fares
« There have been severed hands and body parts. The rockets slice open people’s stomachs. The roads are covered with body parts. After one attack, the roof fell in on the people living in a house. It took us half an hour to get one body out. » – Mahmoud Haddad
As Mahmoud Haddad spoke down the patchy satellite phone line, another shell came fizzing into a nearby apartment block. « Can you hear that? » said the 35-year-old, the aftershock still rattling the windows of his flat in Homs. « That is what Russia and China have given permission for. »
Mahmoud lives in Bab Amr, among the neighbourhoods that have been hardest hit by the Syrian regime’s assault on Homs. More than 200 people were massacred in the city on Friday night, according to a rights group, in what was the single bloodiest day of an uprising which the UN says has led to the deaths of more than 5,600 civilians.
Amateur video footage lays bare a city under siege, with street after street left deserted by terrified residents. Mahmoud said another 25 people were slaughtered yesterday, as troops lobbed shells into his neighbourhood. A member of the opposition Syrian National Council claimed the figure was as high as 50. « It started at 6am, » said Mahmoud. « After the first attacks last week, we set up a field hospital. Then the army shelled it, so we started taking injured people to safe houses. But there is no such thing as a safe house in Homs. »
The Local Co-ordination Committees, a network of activists that works to publicise Syria’s uprising, said that yesterday two people were killed and one paramedic injured when a makeshift clinic was struck during an artillery bombardment.
Syrian state media denied government troops were attacking the area, claiming civilians were torching tyres in order to mimic the effects of bombardment. Mahmoud insisted such statements were lies, claiming that over the weekend the military had deployed a helicopter over Bab Amr which had strafed neighbourhoods with machine-gun fire. « The city has become like Afghanistan. We have had a lot of journalists who have visited Bab Amr. Some of them were in Kandahar, some in Bosnia. They all say that Bab Amr is the most dangerous place they have been in because of the frequency of the shelling and the snipers, » he said.
Other activists echoed the sense of fear that envelops Homs. « It’s become impossible to go out on the street, » said Waleed Fares, from the city’s Al-Khaldya neighbourhood. Abu Rabea, from the eastern neighbourhood of Karm Zeitoun, explained why. « There are 10 snipers on the street outside my house, » he said.
Back in Bab Amr, Mahmoud said that with President Bashar al-Assad intensifying his assault on Homs, its residents were being subject to a terrifying new kind of weapon. « For months they have been using mortars, » he said. « Now they are using rockets… We know a defected soldier who saw the rocket-firing vehicles being deployed in a village west of Homs last month. They have a capacity of 30 rockets per minute. »
According to Mahmoud, the army units surrounding Homs are also using a sinister new strategy. First they launch a rocket into Bab Amr. Then, a few minutes after it has found its target, they send another to exactly the same spot, just as the locals are arriving at the scene to search for the dead and injured. The results are horrific. « The rockets slice open people’s stomachs. The roads are covered with body parts, » he said.
For Mahmoud, the decision by Russia and China to veto a recent resolution calling on Assad to stand aside was unforgivable. « They gave Assad permission to destroy us and clear us out of Homs, » he said. « We need the United Nations. We need the Arab League. We’re humans – not animals… We need a force to protect us. We want an invasion of Syria. We need anyone who can save our lives – even Israel. »
And he had a stern warning for Russia, whose opposition to UN action is partly motivated by a desire to maintain its Soviet-era strategic alliance with Damascus. « Eventually Assad will leave, either today, tomorrow or after one year. We will still be here in Syria. After he leaves, Russia and China will never have any communication with us again. They will pay for this. »