SYRIA

Homs residents protest evacuation of rebel stronghold

Protest against the evacuation of residents of Hom's last rebel-held neighbourhood.
Protest against the evacuation of residents of Hom's last rebel-held neighbourhood.

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Thanks to an accord signed between the Syrian regime and the opposition, hundreds of rebels and civilians have been evacuated from the al-Waer neighbourhood, the last rebel stronghold in Homs. But many residents are upset about the evacuation.

About 700 people – a group made up of 400 women and children and 300 fighters - agreed to be evacuated. They were loaded into buses and then taken to the province of Idlib with UN escorts.

In accordance with the agreement, a delegation led by the UN Under-Secretary For Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brian, was able to bring trucks filled with humanitarian aid into the neighbourhood on Saturday, December 12.

Dozens of residents took advantage of the arrival of the humanitarian delegation to organise a protest, urging their fellow residents to stay despite the lack of basic necessities like food and medicine.

This video shows a protest organised by opposition activists in the al-Waer neighbourhood. One of the activists carries a sign that reads “We care about our land, our revolution, our liberty. And we will not be moved”. Another sign reads “Is the UN going to participate in the displacement of the people of Homs”?

Rami H. is an opposition activist in Homs. He’s been in contact with FRANCE 24 since the beginning of the civil war in Syria. He’s currently in the al-Waer neighbourhood.

The al-Waer neighbourhood has been under siege by the Syrian regime for the past three years. In that time, more than 450,000 people have fled [Editor’s note: according to the AFP, there are only 75,000 people currently living there]. The protesters are accusing the UN of helping the Syrian regime to empty the neighbourhood of its inhabitants.

That’s what happened in the Old Homs neighbourhood. After the siege had been going on for two years, there was a UN-brokered humanitarian truce in February 2014. The combatants were supposed to retreat while the wounded civilians were evacuated by the UN. But as time went on, the UN continued trying to convince people to evacuate. Today, there are practically no people left in that neighbourhood.

The governor of Homs, Tala Barzani, promised to rebuild the neighbourhood, which would allow former residents to return. But almost two years later, no one has been able to move back.

Numerous families who tried to return reported that they were threatened. One family from this neighbourhood – which now lives in Damascus – returned to find that their family home had been requisitioned by a pro-regime, Shiite Iraqi militia. There was another resident who tried to move back several weeks ago but he was unable to obtain permission from the regime to re-open his grocery store.

The same situation took place in the Baba Amro neighbourhood, which was evacuated after opposition fighters were defeated there in February 2012. Since then, not a single resident has been able to move back.

Even though the living conditions here in al-Waer are really difficult, most residents would rather stay. They’re worried about losing their property, their homes, and their businesses for good if they leave.

Many people also fear that eventually, the largely Sunni population in Homs will be replaced by Alawites [Editor’s note: this is a Shiite sect that the president, Bashar al-Assad, belongs to]. Many people in the opposition movement have accused the government of plotting to do just that. Before the war, Homs had 22 zones that had primarily Sunni populations. Now, there are only seven neighbourhoods left with a majority Sunni population.