When I visited Syria a year and a half ago, the Syrian city of Homs was largely under government control. A few days ago the government began evacuating the last of the militants from their enclave in Homs under a truce agreement brokered by the United Nations and Red Cross. The victory parade of the Syrian Arab Army was in distinct contrast to any victory parade of ISIS.
A Victory Parade
Here is the response of the people of Homs to their liberation by the Syria Arab Army. More will soon be able to return to their homes and begin the long journey of rebuilding.
This is the victory parade of ISIS occupiers returning from Mosul,Iraq to their headquarters in Raqqa on June 25, 2014.
There’s no one on the street as ISIS rolls into Raqqa, but they sure have a long and distinctive train of hardware. It is interesting that those with the satellites didn’t see them, or take the trouble to respond. Either way, their reception is in stark contrast to the crowds of civilians cheering the SAA and embracing the troops as they roll through Homs after the militants have left.
Homs was one of the early centers of the uprising in Syria. At the moment I won’t go into all the misinformation that has been presented in the Western media, but here is a quote from IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks), an NGO that reports on humanitarian crises about Homs in December 2011
Homs, a major transportation node that forms a crossroads between the main regions of the country, used to be a microcosm of the national mosaic – made up of a mix of ethnic and religious groups, including Sunni Muslims, Christians, and Alawis, members of a minority offshoot of Shia Islam to which al-Assad belongs.
But activists say neighbours of different sects who used to live side by side peacefully have increasingly turned against one another.
Initially, the LCC accused government-allied militia of kidnapping protesters, with the number of kidnappings rising in November, it said.
But increasingly, residents say, civilians have been behind sectarian-coloured counter-kidnappings of government forces, but also of Alawi and Christian civilians, as well as Sunnis considered to be spies for the government. The LCC maintains that some counter-kidnappings are conducted only to secure the release of captured civilians.
“There should not be any doubt of the regime’s entire responsibility for the sectarian turn of events in Homs,” opposition figure and author Yassin Haj Saleh said in the LCC statement. The regime “starved [the people] and incited hate between the people of different neighbourhoods,” he said.
But other well-placed sources said they had received reports that opposition groups were behind much of the violence in Homs. The resident quoted earlier said the kidnappings seemed to be conducted mostly by Sunnis, and said he knew of three Christians who had been kidnapped in two days this week.
The Gradual, Hard Won, Recovery of Syria
The western press often denigrates victories of the Syrian Arab Army in recovering control of their country. This is not the first victory in Homs, but a significant step on the road to restoration. The Syrian government largely controlled the area in June 2014 when I was there as an election observer. Surprisingly (to me), people walked out of the rebel held areas to vote. Men danced in the street in Homs when the high tally for Bashar Assad was announced. In 2012, enough of the city was liberated for President Assad to walk down the street with his entourage and greet the people.
This month a truce was negotiated allowing the last of the militants in Homs and their families to be resettled outside the area. According to NBC:
Talal Barazi, governor of Homs, told Syria’s Sana news agency that some 720 people would be allowed to leave Waer district — 300 of them militants — during the first stage of the agreement brokered by the U.N. and the Red Cross.
During a second stage, some 2,000 militants who wished to lay down their weapons and go back to their “normal lives” would be resettled, Sana reported. Some 70,000 civilians are believed to still live in Waer, which has been under siege since 2013.
Amnesty and a Celebration of Peaceful Futures
The Syrian government has made a number of truces with indigenous militants, either relocating them to areas still in conflict or allowing them amnesty if they will join the government forces. This truce, arranged between provincial officials and representatives of Al Nusra Front (Al Qaeda in Syria) requires the fighters to hand over their weapons to the Syrian Arab Army. However, the will be resettled in Idlib where the SAA and the Al Nusra Front remain in conflict.
But, that is a problem for tomorrow. Today, the city of Homs is will be free of weapons and war. People are already returning to their homes.