Syria’s brutal civil war is not unknown to others around the world. With more than 100,000 killed and still counting, the war has come to started to boil over to the otherwise peaceful region of Homs which now faces the daunting task of choosing sides between the army rebels and Assad’s political forces, or die in the crossfire.
Homs is a rural region in Syria that is home to several religious communities who surprisingly, lived in peaceful harmony till now. The villages in this region are politically diverse as well and were said to quietly support both the warring parties led by Assad’s Alwalites and the Sunni rebels trying to topple his regime. For instance, the village of Al Zara functioned as a primary Assad camp in the daytime, only to transform into a rebel camp at night, supplying weapons, food and medicine to the rebels situated in nearby villages.Surprisingly, both the concerned parties knew about these villages ‘cat on the wall’ stances and yet chose to remain silent about the same for mutual benefits.
All that has come to an end now with the Syrian army posing an ultimatum to these villages to choose a side and surrender, or die in the process. And the possibility of community clashes within these villages is becoming increasingly high with certain locals supporting the army while others choose to remain loyal to Assad.
The Syrian army knows that Assad plans to secure a prominent territory between his stronghold (situated on the Mediterranean coast) and the country’s capital, Damascus. The army plans to thwart this move by seizing important areas in between this stretch, including Homs, the capture of which would effectively cut off vital communication between rebel camps located in the north and south, and shut down their supply line for good.
The Ring of Death
Villages like Al Zara are home to a large portion of the Sunni Muslim majority which has to this day, remained silent about their hatred for Assad’s militia rule. The reason for this is attributed to the large concentration of the minority Alwalite sect (a branch of Shi’ite Islam) located in the villages surrounding villages like Al Zara. The alwalite sect is strongly dedicated to Assad.
And beyond these villages come a valley occupied by Christians who formed a sect with the alwalites (fearing the rise of Islam in the region) to form what is called ‘Shabbiha’, a term associated with pro-Assad militia.
With the Syrian army imposing deadlines, the Christain Shabbiha has now decided to join hands with the troops and have gone against the alwalites and rebels. And caught in between are the minority Sunnis who have nowhere to go and would lose definitely lose everything, no matter which side they choose.
While the Sunnis in villages like Al Zara want their relationship with the Christian Shabbiha to continue, they fear the vengeful ways of Assad’s militia which nearly razed the nearby town of Qusair for not surrendering.
Bordering towns like Telkalakh are also facing the heat as Assad’s military troops warn them to surrender. In fact, when the rebels located in the town were pressurized to surrender by the locals, Assad’s forces moved on to Al Zara with the same expectation.
Al Zara however, had a different story to tell. The alwalites located around the village are willing to do anything to defend their regime, irrespective of the wishes of the locals. And with tensions rising, the rebels have asked the Christian Shabbiha from the nearby Christian towns to stay away from this battle, or face bloodshed otherwise.
But the Christian Shabbiha has disclosed that its loyalty has shifted base and that is now too late to make any changes. And in an attempt to thwart the rebels, it has started to torch forests located around hillside rebel towns in order to bring the rebels out in the open and destroy any hiding place they may have in these areas.
The rebels have in turn retaliated with warnings about their sleeper cells being present in the Christian villages and the possibility of several unpleasant surprises for the Christian Shabbiha. And what remains at the end of the day, is what say the locals in these villages have in this matter, which sadly, is nothing! Caught in between a dangerous game that could lead to entire villages being wiped out by the rebels on one hand and the army on the other, these locals are waiting for what they call an ill-fated judgment day!