SYRIA

While all eyes are on Homs, what’s happening in the rest of Syria?

 While the international media has its attention focused on the embattled city of Homs, which continues to be relentlessly shelled by the Syrian army, we asked our Observers in three other cities around the country – in Hama, Deraa, and Zabanadi – how the protest movement is faring there.

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Tanks entering the village of Alfaya, near Hama, on February 27.

 

While the international media has its attention focused on the embattled city of Homs, which continues to be relentlessly shelled by the Syrian army, we asked our Observers in three other cities around the country – in Hama, Deraa, and Zabanadi – how the protest movement is faring there.

 

For nearly one year now, the Syrian government has sent its soldiers throughout the country to quell anti-government protests. One after the other, Syria’s major cities were the focus of bloody crackdowns. Our Observers take stock of the situation as it stands today in the city of Deraa, where the protest movement began on March 15, 2011; in Zabadani, the first city that the rebel army declared “liberated” back in January; and in Hama, a city that for Syrians has symbolised resistance to president Bashar Al-Assad’s family ever since 1982 when his father, Hafez Al-Assad, ordered a massacre that killed 20,000 people there.

"The authorities didn't want Zabadani to become a 'Syrian Benghazi'"

Mohammad Ali is one of the founding members of Zabadani’s revolutionary council.

 

I fled Zabadani two weeks ago, after the regular army took the city back from the Free Syrian Army [a rebel army made up of deserters from the regular Syrian army]. After the Free Syrian Army liberated the city, its fighters destroyed the city’s police headquarters, which provoked a strong reaction from the authorities. They were also annoyed because we in Zabadani tried to tell the international media about how the city had been liberated, and they didn’t want a ‘Syrian Benghazi’ [Benghazi was the first Libyan city to successfully rebel against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s rule]. They were afraid that the news of the rebels’ success would have had a positive effect on the morale of rebel soldiers in the rest of the country, and a negative one on soldiers loyal to the regime.

 

And so, the Syrian army counter-attacked with incredible violence, particularly on the 13, 14 and 15 of February. On February 15, the Free Syrian Army was forced to leave the city, because the fighters were afraid the civilian population would pay too high a cost for their presence. They fled into the mountains.

 

Today, the situation is even more difficult than before the armies fought each other – communication with the city is nearly impossible because of electricity outages. No one in the city is protesting anymore. And the regular army seems determined not to lose its grip on Zabadani a second time.”

 

"Hama is under siege but the people in the surrounding countryside are very active against the regime"

Omar Rahmoun is a member of Hama’s revolutionary council. He lives in the village of Halfaya, just north of Hama.

 

The city of Hama has been under siege by the regular army since December. There are tanks and checkpoints everywhere, which makes it very difficult for activists to get around. That’s why they’re now more active in the villages around Hama. These villages spread out for 60 or 70 kilometres all around the city, so it’s hard for the army to control them.

 

All over Syria, people living in the countryside are very active against the regime. In Jabal Azzawiyah, a village near the northern city of Idlib, there are more protests in the villages than in the city itself. In Douma, 20 kilometres outside of Damascus, people are also far more active than in the capital. In truth, the city of Homs is an exception – there, people are most active inside the city, which has led to a much bigger show of force on the part of the army.

 

Here, in the villages surrounding Hama, some villages are Sunnite [70% of the Syrian population is Sunnite] while others are Alawite [Alawites are a Shiite minority, to which the president’s family belongs.] That’s good news for the regime, because it means it’s very unlikely that all the villages would ever ban together against it.”

  

A protest in Halfaya, a village near Deraa, on February 27. 

 

"Deraa's social structure is strong. When someone from one of our tribes is hurt by the regime, we all band together and fight back"

Mounif Zaeem is an anti-government activist living in a village near Deraa.

 

It’s natural that everyone’s talking about Homs, because the crackdown is more violent there than anywhere else. However in our region, both in Deraa [where five people were killed in clashes between the regular army and the Free Syrian army on Tuesday] and in nearby villages, people continue to protest.

 

This region’s social structure is very strong. We all belong to tribes, which are all related to one another. This means that when someone from one of our tribes is hurt by the regime, we all band together to fight back. Here, blood runs deep.”

 

This store was burnt down by security forces in Gizah, in the region of Houra.