Middle East News
Death a daily event in al-Qusayr south of Homs
By Mayte Carrasco Feb 13, 2012, 13:29 GMT
Homs, Syria - Five bodies of members of the Syrian intelligence services are lying in the entrance and inside a building which is still in flames. One of the bodies is partly covered by a cushion with a floral pattern.
Militiamen of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are standing around the bodies. These former members of the armed forces who have deserted to the opposition have taken the headquarters of the secret service here in al-Qusayr, a town numbering some 40,000 residents south of Homs.
Papers lie scattered across the floor, mingled with half-burnt charge-sheets and a Syrian army cap with an eagle insignia. Curious children peer in through the door.
Two FSA fighters pass on a motorcycle, their faces covered by black ski masks. 'Freedom, freedom,' they shout, pumping the air with their Kalashnikov rifles.
The rebels start to take up their positions as reports come in of four government tanks approaching from the north.
Life came to a standstill in al-Qusayr 11 months ago. There are around 20 snipers in the city, firing on anything that moves - men, women, children.
The government forces, reported to number around 400 men, have barricaded themselves in the main hospital and the town hall.
'One or two people die every day,' says Omar, a local opposition activist. 'This has been going on for a long time, but no one helps us.'
Omar says the locals have no option but to defend themselves. 'We demonstrated peacefully for a long time, but all we achieved was to get ourselves locked up or killed.'
The funeral for the secret service officers will be dealt with quickly. In al-Qusayr, the dead are buried within 20 minutes in an improvised cemetery shielded from gunfire.
When the mortars start to fall, locals seek shelter in their cellars, huddling in the dark, cut off from the world outside. An undercover hospital is currently treating three people injured by the snipers.
The eyes of the world have been focused primarily on the city of Homs, which has come under severe bombardment from government forces and where hundreds have been killed in recent days.
Meanwhile, the conflict is spreading to other towns in the Homs governorate and further afield throughout the country, even to the suburbs around Damascus.
Since the start of the uprising in Daraa in the south in mid-March 2011, more than 70 people have been killed in al-Qusayr, set in the hills overlooking the border with Lebanon. Most the victims were shot dead by the snipers.
Many of the town's residents say they were detained and tortured in Homs prison. 'We were eight to a cell measuring just one square metre,' Abu Amar says. 'We couldn't even sit down.'
Taken singly for interrogation, they returned bloodied and bruised. There were no doctors, and no food for five days. 'They tied my hands and blindfolded me. Then I was hung up by my arms,' Abu Amar says. 'They poured water on my back and then gave me electric shocks.'
He says he was released on payment of a bribe of 2,000 dollars.
In al-Qusayr, which is largely Sunni Muslim but also home to a Christian minority making up some 10 per cent of the population, local civilian committees are working to prevent religious violence.
Last week, FSA militiamen seized a member of a Christian family, accusing him of collaborating with the Alawite-dominated regime of President Bashir al-Assad. In response, the regime's forces seized five Sunni Muslims off the street.
A mob of youths then attacked Christians, seizing around 20 people. Qassir, the head of a local committee, intervened to mediate and to prevent an outbreak of violence.
'That's what Assad wants, but we won't let it happen,' Qassir says. 'This here is a political revolution and it has nothing to do with God. We are demanding our freedom, quite independently of our faith.'