A Syrian Observer in exile: "What is shown in the media is completely different from the reality"
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Khaled (not his real name) is one of FRANCE 24’s Syrian Observers. With the help of Observers like him, we have been able to follow what has been happening in Syria over the past year. In late February, Khaled had to flee his hometown of Homs, a hotspot of protest that the Syrian army has relentlessly bombed for the past six weeks.
Screen grab of a video interview filmed with our Observer in Paris.
Khaled (not his real name) is one of FRANCE 24’s Syrian Observers. With the help of Observers like him, we have been able to follow what has been happening in Syria over the past year. In late February, Khaled had to flee his hometown of Homs, a hotspot of protest that the Syrian army has relentlessly bombed for the past six weeks. During a visit to Paris last week, he came to talk to us about what is happening there and how he thinks the conflict could be resolved.
After having spoken with him many times via Skype, we finally had the chance to meet Khaled in person. He told us that after leaving Homs, he went to Saudi Arabia, a country he has frequently visited through his job as a sound engineer. However, his wife, who has been working for the Syrian Red Crescent (the equivalent of the Red Cross in the Arab world), refused to leave the country.
Khaled asserts that he doesn’t belong to any “revolutionary committee”, that is, the local networks which coordinate militias. However, he said that he is in touch with certain members of the Syrian National Council (SNC), some of whom are relatives of his, but does not necessarily agree with all of their ideas.
According to the UN’s latest figures, more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the start of the uprising a year ago.
"My primary concern today is to get humanitarian relief into Syria"
Before leaving, I filmed some videos that I posted on YouTube and I can assure you that the images which reach the international media only show a fraction of what is really happening – from the number of deaths to the brutality of the repression.
I left Homs on the eve of the heavy bombardment of the Baba Amr neighbourhood on 4 February. I left because living conditions had greatly deteriorated during the previous few months, and both the city’s economy and administration were completely paralysed. I had to leave so that I could earn money to support my family, and left the country legally.
Several days later, on 6 February, all communication lines between the city and other countries were cut. I wasn’t able to contact my wife and children, who are all still there, for several days. I was very worried because the bombardments were getting more and more intense. But we found a solution: now I call my sister-in-law in Damascus, and she then calls my wife in Homs and puts us in touch via video conference. It doesn’t work every time, but it’s better than nothing.
When I left Homs I was determined to find a way to help my family, as well as all the other residents of Homs. My primary concern today is to get humanitarian relief into Syria, such as blankets, medicines with a long shelf life (we have to take into account the time it will take to transport them there), and basic foodstuffs (rice, flour, etc.). Alongside other fellow Syrians, I am organising a shipment of aid from the Gulf to Syria. The supplies are transported by bus across the Jordanian-Syrian border. This is not too difficult as border guards in this area are accustomed to turning a blind eye to merchandise coming in as long as they receive bribes. But in light of the quantities that we’ve transported recently, I think they suspect that it is humanitarian aid that is being brought across the border. Although the Jordanian authorities take a hard line on the transportation of weapons, the border guards aren’t really worried about this because they know that most arms arrive through Lebanon.
"Some Alawites have been kidnapped, despite having nothing to do with the current regime"
Since the unrest began, the regime has wanted to use the issue of sectarianism to cause division. There are three communities in Homs: Sunni Muslims [which make up 70% of Syria’s population], Alawite Muslims [the main branch of Shiite Muslims, which makes up 10% of the Syrian population], and Christians. On the whole, there isn’t much tension between Sunnis and Christians in Homs. Some families are half-Muslim and half-Christian. After the bombardment of the city, some Muslim families even sought refuge in the city’s churches. Unfortunately, there is more tension with the Alawites. The fact that a number of them have enrolled as “chabbihas” [militias who support the regime], fighting alongside the security forces, has poisoned relations between Sunnis and Alawites. Sometimes Sunnis treat all Alawites as if they were the same, especially when they want revenge for the death of one of their own. As a result, some Alawites have been kidnapped, despite having nothing to do with the current regime. But in my view, these are isolated cases [a recent report by Human Rights Watch made reference to human rights abuses committed by the Free Syrian Army, a group led by soldiers who have deserted the regular army].
"I support any decision that would stop the current bloodbath"
The Syrian National Council is the only credible political group representing the Syrian opposition today. Personally, I regret that its members are not more concerned about what is actually happening in the country and are not doing more to end the bloodshed. Instead, they are getting stuck in political negotiations. Every member of the council wants to impose his own ideas, which has caused divisions within the organisation. They must understand that Syrians are tired of this political stalemate and that the public interest must take precedence over personal ambitions.
Regarding the question of arming the Free Syrian Army, I support any decision that would stop the current bloodbath, the victims of which are Syrian civilians. But if I had a choice, I would opt for the intervention of UN forces as part of a special mission, just like the one in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992. In my opinion, their neutrality and peacekeeping mission would make them the best force for stopping this massacre. This would be better than foreign military intervention, like what took place in Libya. And if this is not possible, the least that should be done is to ensure that arming the Free Syrian Army is done under the close supervision of the international community, thus preventing arms from falling into the wrong hands. We don’t want Syria to become another Iraq.