Monday, 23rd January 2012 03:49
Watch video here.
If you know the right people, who know the right routes there’s a way round the government checkpoints and into the parts of Homs controlled by anti-government forces.
On the outskirts of the city we met our first guide. His yellow taxi parked in a way in which we would recognise it.
Cameraman Nathan Hale and I followed him through farmland, down muddy lanes, then into the suburbs, taking side streets and alleyways, zig-zagging past the army patrols until we came to our first ‘Free Syrian Army’ FSA checkpoint.
In street after street of this predominantly Sunni district the walls of houses, shops, and offices were riddled with bullet holes, or blasted by tank rounds and the effects of rocket-propelled grenades.
Refuse was piled high everywhere. Most streets were deserted.
We switched cars and were taken to a house where a man with multiple wounds, he said from gunfire, was recovering in what was a friend’s spare room.
The facilities available to him were as rudimentary as those in the small clinic we then visited. It was in one room which used to be an office.
While we were there a young man came in supported by friends and with a large bandage on his foot. He said he’d been hit by a sniper’s bullet.
A doctor took an X-ray using a machine smuggled in by the underground - the lights flickered as the generator powering the clinic struggled to cope with the extra demand.
A few streets away the body of a man arrested by the army two weeks ago for carrying a pistol was brought back home from the morgue. The corpse of 23-year-old Hayyan Akhwan showed signs of torture.
The women of the family wept and ululated as he was prepared for burial. Then the men carried him out into the streets shouting anti-government slogans.
Carrying him above their heads, they walked in large circles, an honour for what they regard as a ‘Shaheed’, a martyr. They were showing him all the corners of the earth for the last time.
We headed across town, moving past a government held area, to get to the district of Bab Amr. There we found many more members of the FSA. They were suspicious of outsiders and didn’t want us filming the fortified bunkers they had prepared over the last few weeks.
The open space around the football stadium was a no-go area. Streets around it were devastated by fighting and a tower block on the far side in a government area was being used by snipers.
We were about to try and get back to the first district we visited when a guide received a phone call. An army ‘flying checkpoint’ had been set up on the route. More calls were made and a different safe route worked out. In all we switched cars five times.
Most people working on the oppositon side were reluctant to show their faces, but one army defector, Omar Shamsi, gave us an interview.
He began his statement ‘in the name of Allah’ and went on to say that when he joined the army he had sworn to defend the people, and that when he was ordered to open fire on civilians he switched sides.
He claimed that in his small district alone there were 30 army detectors. We could not verify that.
On the way out we spotted a family loading up a small truck with their household goods. “We’re leaving the bullets behind,” the head of the family told us. He added: “We’re going to Damascus.”
A woman appeared shouting about the nightmare of bombs and bullets. “Five families have left, just on this street,” she said, pointing at the shrapnel-marked walls of her home.
Last week, when we were in a government-controlled Allawite/Christian neighbourhood of Homs, we met Allawite and Christian people from Bab Amr who had come to live with their co-religionists.
Syria is slowly splitting - there are many caught in the middle who don’t want to have to be on either side.