Mass executions, families butchered in their homes, checkpoints and disappearances. This is reality for those living in the Baba Amr district of Homs, Syria’s third city and the capital of the revolution.
It follows an assault on the poor neighbourhood by forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad.
Reports coming out of Homs are beyond belief. Boys as young as 14, young men and the elderly are being lined up and shot in cold blood. Families are being dragged out of their homes and killed in the street.
The wounded are detained and tortured. And regime thugs known as the Shabiha (“ghosts”) burn and loot the city.
The attack on Homs is an attempt to destroy the heart of the uprising. But far from suppressing the revolt, the massacre has sparked an unprecedented wave of demonstrations across Syria.
The misery inflicted on Homs is made worse by one of Syria’s coldest winters for years, together with fuel and food shortages.
Cheap breezeblock houses in the poor neighourhoods provide little protection against the cold, or from the barrage of tank shells, artillery and mortar rounds.
Assad’s offensive is a symptom of the weakness of a regime that has lost all legitimacy. As news of the assault filtered through, so did reports of growing numbers of mutinies and defections among soldiers.
The regime is at war with its people. Fighting has spread to the countryside around the capital Damascus, eastern regions close to the Iraqi border, the south and the Kurdish-Syrian areas of the north.
The regime no longer trusts the regular army. It depends on elite military forces commanded by Assad’s brother.
Defecting soldiers tell of how they are sent into battle with limited ammunition because officers cannot count on their loyalty.
There are unconfirmed reports of mass executions of soldiers who refuse to fire on the people.
The revolution’s leadership lies inside the Local Coordinating Committees and soldiers who have defected to form the Free Syrian Army.
On Friday they announced over 600 protests in solidarity with Homs. These protests have now spilled over into Syria’s Palestinian refugee camps.
Baba Amr has come to represent the defiance of a revolution which is growing in popularity, despite many setbacks.
The biggest protests are now in the working class suburbs of Damascus and in the industrial city of Aleppo. These areas were silent in the first months of the revolution—but are key to the success of the uprising.
Over the weekend huge demonstrations broke out across Aleppo. A general strike was declared in hundreds of workplaces in the industrial district.
The fate of the revolution remains in the balance. The offensive that began in Homs is spreading to other rebel areas. But so are the mutinies, demonstrations and strikes.
The fate of this popular revolution lies in the hands of the people. The regime is hollow, ruthless—but weak. It could crumble in the face of mass resistance springing from the ashes of Baba Amr.
Over 400 people met at the London Muslim Centre last week to pledge support for Syria’s revolution. For a full report see Solidarity meeting pledges support for Syrian revolution