According to activists inside and outside Syria, the government’s 27-day siege against the opposition stronghold of Baba Amr has now succeeded. Initial reports suggest that forces are entering this neighborhood in the city of Homs, but details are sketchy at best because most of the reporters and citizen journalists covering the story have either fled or died.
One man, though, continues to bear witness. Sami, known as @samsomhoms on Twitter, is one of the last holdouts in Homs continuing to report on the dire situation there.
“I’m now near Baba Amr,” he told us via Skype earlier today. “The shelling had increased yesterday in a very crazy way that was very intensive and concentrated, from morning til sunset… [But] now it’s just shooting by live rounds.”
While the end of the shelling is no doubt a relief to those inside the city, it’s also a sign that the next stage of the army operation has begun: a mop-up operation by ground forces going street by street, door to door. By any reasonable measure, the Syrian opposition’s most symbolic stronghold has fallen.
“Baba Amr is the most powerful center for the opposition — for the [Free Syrian Army (FSA)] and for the peaceful opposition,” Sami explained. “I think we have to remember that Baba Amr has stood against barbaric force by the regime for a continuous 27 days. That’s a very long time…. They are without water, without food and medications – without any support since the 5th of February. I think the next step of the regime, they will invade other areas near Homs where the FSA are. I absolutely hope they don’t do that, but the regime considers this a big, important win.”
“It’s impossible to do anything without the Free Syrian Army,” Sami lamented. “They [the opposition] are protected by them; they were protecting the protesters, even at the sit-ins and the strikes… That was all protected by the FSA. And without them we are unable to do anything.”
“The FSA doesn’t have weapons like the regime – just light weapons,” he added. “They can’t stand [against] the shelling and the mortars of the regime forces.”
While the fall of Baba Amr is a major setback for the opposition, Sami’s greatest concern at the moment is the humanitarian plight of civilians trapped in Homs.
“Water is still shut down by the regime for the third continuous day. And electricity too, for most parts of the city…. It’s a terrible situation in that it’s snowing right now; it’s snowing and we’re shaking here. We don’t have any way to warm ourselves. There’s no fuel, there’s no electricity.”
“The humanitarian situation is going so bad,” Sami continued. “It’s terrible, this military operation. The Free Syrian Army is making a withdrawal… They have withdrawn from the area of Baba Amr and the forces of the regime can enter it at any time.”
“There is no food, no medication, no water. It’s just a terrible situation. We need immediate help and aid, and we need humanitarian organizations to relieve our area soon.”
Just one week ago, Baba Amr was teeming with media. Now, as far as reporting is concerned, it’s a veritable ghost town.
“We’ve had to move our location,” Sami said. “I was very near to Baba Amr; I was so close. In the past few days we had to flee from the area. I went to an area near it that was more safe.”
Now that Homs has fallen, which city, if any, is positioned to become the opposition’s newest symbol of defiance? It could be any of them – Deir Ez Zor, Hama, Idlib… Or none of them. For the moment, at least, Sami is more concerned about what’s happening far from the watchful eyes of journalists and Internet-savvy activists, in villages and towns scattered across the country.
“Some of the small towns of Syria are facing the same situation just like Homs,” he said. “There’s no media concentrating on those areas because they’re small villages…Homs is the third biggest city in Syria – that’s why the media is focusing on it. There were a lot of media activists that were using their online connections to bring their voices to the world — to let the world know what’s going on there.”
Even though it’s quite likely that Syrian forces will try to hunt down any remaining resistance in Homs, Sami has no intention of leaving.
“I don’t plan to go out of Homs but I’m monitoring the situation,” he said. “I can’t judge if something new will happen. But I’m absolutely not planning to leave the city.”