Residents of the Syrian city of Homs awoke on Thursday to intense shelling by the army and security forces. Shooting and explosions could be heard in the old district of Bab Sbaa, and the resulting fires ravaged the city centre, eyewitnesses say. Our Observer there brings us this rare first-hand report.
Syrian security forces have stepped up their military operation in the central city of Homs, Syria’s cultural capital and a focal point of pro-democracy protests. According to residents and rights groups, the fresh wave of repression has left at least 50 people dead since Saturday. Because of extraordinarily tight restrictions on reporting in Syria, these figures are very difficult to verify independently. On Tuesday evening, the army reportedly made mass arrests in villages surrounding the city.
Protesters in other cities across the country have decided to dedicate this Friday’s protests (demonstrations in Syria traditionally take place after Friday noon prayers) to the citizens of Homs.
Army shooting in the neighbourhood of Al-Marijeh, Video posted on YouTube.

"If you come across armed forces in the street, you’re at best a prisoner, at worst a dead man"

Abou Omar is an activist in Homs. He risked his life to take some photos and videos in the city’s streets after the shelling.
The city has been under attack by the army and security forces for several days, but the shootings usually took place at night.
The shelling began today at 5:00 am in the central neighbourhood of Bab Sbaa. Two hours later, the army tanks rolled in and began bombing neighbourhoods and setting fire to shops and market stalls.
The army has encircled every neighbourhood of the city. First it went south, towards the districts of Baba Amr and Bab Eddarb, then headed north towards the neighbourhoods of Khalidiya and Al Bayada. Military checkpoints have been set up everywhere; they are controlled both by soldiers and secret service agents. If you come across armed forces in the streets, you’re at best a prisoner, at worst a dead man.
Nevertheless, there have been a few defections. I personally saw several army deserters exchange fire with other soldiers and police.
The shooting is still going on, especially in the neighbourhood of Bab Sbaa. It looks as though the government wants to eradicate the protest movement in Homs once and for all. We have been at the forefront of the movement against [Syrian President Bashar al] Assad since March 18. But now, residents are terrified and remain barricaded inside their homes. Personally, I’m extremely cautious when I go out, avoiding all the main streets and taking little-known alleys instead. That’s the only way you can get around the city.”
A shop burns after being bombed by army fire in the central neighbourhood of Bab Sbaa on Thursday, July 21. Video posted on YouTube.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira.