Despite the international outcry that followed the deaths of two western journalists and the continuous siege of Homs last week, the rebel resistance in the city has now fallen after a month of continuous and barbaric shelling.
The long-awaited ground assault against the Free Syrian Army-held district of Baba Amr finally took place on Thursday, with hundreds of tanks and thousands of troops entering the district and forcing thousands of civilians to flee. The assailants were part of the infamous 4th Brigade, which is led by Bashar al-Assad's brother, Maher. As of Monday the BBC had caught up with these fleeing refugees who gave graphic accounts of what happened to their loved ones. Unfortunately these reports have been seen by the regime, and so on Tuesday morning they destroyed a bridge used by refugees to escape into Lebanon.
Fortunately, before the city fell the FSA were able to evacuate the journalists Paul Conroy and Edith Bouvier who were both wounded in the same attack that killed Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik. The escape was chaotic, with up to 20 activists ending up dead while attempting to run away. Another journalist (who was not wounded), Javier Espinosa, was able to provide this account of their flight. Once inside Lebanon, the wounded were taken to Beirut and then flown home. The Sunday Times photographer, Paul Conroy, spoke to the BBC and other networks after being stabilised in a London hospital:
Before the city fell, living conditions in Homs reached medieval levels. With media centres targetted and citizen journalists killed, comunications with activists began to slow down.
This is the last transcript we received of the situation in Homs:
"Are they going to cut the air off in Homs next?
"For a whole month electricity and water have been cut off, most of the time in Homs for long hours, and in some areas both had been cut off completely for three days. People are sharing whatever is left of the drinking water. Communication services have also been cut off for nearly a month now, including internet services, and satellite phone signals are also being jammed and interfered with. Meanwhile, fuel has run out, and moving in and out of the city has become practically impossible. The medical situation cannot be described as a crisis any more; it is a real catastrophe."
Water had become so scarce, that when it snowed the residents of Baba Amr had to hang up buckets to collect the snow for water:
As ground forces prepared to enter, the shelling intensified with reports of some 24 rockets hitting Baba Amr every five minutes. This map does its best to pinpoint the exact locations of the indiscriminate impacts that killed so many. At least this kid survived:
In his assault on Homs, al-Assad has used a range of weapons. A budding group of aviation enthusiasts have collated eyewitness videos to discern the origin of the artillery used in the shelling. As you can see, the list overwhelmingly supports the idea that the Russians have been arming the regime.
After a month of intense defensive actions, and rescue missions for wounded civilians and journalists, the FSA started to run out of ammo. This Dateline report highlights their desperate efforts to defend the city:
In some instances the FSA went on the offensive too, ambushing regime ammunition convoys and reinforcements:
or T-72 tanks:
On Friday however, the FSA were forced to withdraw from Homs, in order to re-stock and continue the fight elsewhere. Unfortunately, this meant the civilians were left at the mercy of al-Assad's forces, who immediately began exterminating those male civilians of a fighting age – snuffing out any chance of them joining the resistance.
Women and children were also killed, and in one horrifying incident, 17 civilians were beheaded by regime soldiers. Campaign group Avaaz explains:
"This morning 17 civilians were beheaded or partially beheaded by regime security forces in the farming area on the outskirts of Baba Amr. Avaaz has verified all 17 names. Six of those slaughtered were from the Sabouh family.
"Yesterday, an entire family of five was killed at the Gardenia checkpoint outside the Homs neighbourhood of al-Waer. Some members of the family were beheaded. Avaaz citizen journalist ‘Waleed’ reported: 'At least three families have been slaughtered in the same manner, some beheaded, in the past 48 hours. The Hamsa family, the Shbat family and the Bihlaq family have been slaughtered over the course of two days.'
"Waleed added: “The Shbat family come from the Fawaara Bedouin tribe so we expect a violent escalation at the al-Fadous roundabout, which is where the family is from and close to where the attack took place.'”
These kind of attacks are likely to continue as the (mainly Alawite) members of the 4th Brigade take their revenge on the Sunni residents of the city. Alas, without the citizen journalists and the Red Cross, these attacks won't be reported.
As Homs fell, the regime was able to shift more of its forces to other revolutionary centres like Rastan (a town not far from Homs), which has started to take artillery fire. At a demonstration on Friday a mortar shell landed amongst protesters, killing scores and leaving more injured:
FSA attacks have increased in response to the new spread and pressure of attacks by regime forces:
FSA units have also started to appear in the capital, Damascus. Despite the fact that their presence remains contained, I'd like to say this seems like a good start and a worrying development for al-Assad:
As other towns and cities take up arms, further good news can be derived from Qatar's decision to arm the rebels. On Wednesday, the Guardian reported that Libya announced it would give $100 million to the Syrian opposition, the SNC, and set them up with a military bureau in Tripoli. Many wondered how Libya could afford such a generous outlay, but a spokesman for the Libyan council was quoted as saying that "it won't be a problem".
This is no coincidence; Days before, Qatar had also expressed a willingness to arm the FSA. With a good track record when it comes to the rebels in Libya they seem likely to be the bankrollers behind Libya's grand gesture.
Further calls to arm the FSA came from Senator John McCain, who reiterated his support for the rebels in a speech to the US Senate, "Time is running out. Assad's forces are on the march. Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary, but at this late hour, that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives. The only realistic way to do so is with foreign air power."
If weapons and money can be supplied quickly to the FSA, if defections continue and areas are set up for the Red Cross/ Crescent to treat the wounded, then the revolution just might stand a chance.
As it stands now, it seems the regime will sweep across the country trying to replicate its actions at Homs.
Not much else to do, really, but hope this doesn't happen.
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Previously: Syrian Slaughter Update - Week Three