Destruction of Homs Emblematic of Destroyed Trust Between Religious Groups

ICC Note: The city of Homs puts the far reaching consequences of the Syrian War on display. Before the war, Homs was a center of eduction and engineering and home to a Christian minority that thrived though surrounded by Muslim neighbors. Now, any trust once felt between Christians and their neighbors has been decimated. The war has moved on to other parts of the country, presenting Christians with the option to return. But what is there to go home to?

02/19/2018 Syria (Stratfor) – To see the consequences of war, come to Homs. Known to the Romans as Emesa, Syria’s third-largest city is only a 100-mile drive north of Damascus on the highway to Aleppo. A multitude of sects once shared the city, which spreads outward from its stone-built historic center into modern, high-rise suburbs. If you threw a shoe out the window, Homs’ inhabitants used to say, it was bound to hit a doctor or an engineer. Now most of the doctors and engineers, like the buildings in which they dwelled, have vanished.

Homs boasts a sprawling university campus, magnificent mosques, towering church spires, parks, libraries and hospitals. Before war broke out, the old city and its covered bazaar housed a large Christian minority that thrived among its Sunni neighbors. The southern outskirts were the redoubt of urbanizing peasants, many of them from the Alawite sect of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, who wove themselves into the fabric of Homsi society. In the late 20th century, the Alawites came to form about a quarter of the city’s population.

Nearly seven years of war have transformed Homs in body and soul. As the cradle of the revolution, it was the first major city in Syria to follow the rural southern border town of Daraa into peaceful, then violent, protests against the government. The old city and the Khaldiyeh, Baba Amr and Waer quarters evolved into rebel fortresses, besieged by the government army outside and dominated by insurgents — most of them jihadists — within. It took the government 4 1/2 years to force the rebels to surrender, many of them agreeing to relocate with their families and small arms to the country’s largest insurgent concentration in nearby Idlib province.

The landscape, more than two years after the fighters departed, evokes the devastation in Berlin, Dresden and Warsaw at the end of World War II. Hundreds of acres of what had been comfortable apartment complexes are now mangled mountains of deformed concrete. Homs is quiet, the war having moved to Idlib, Afrin and other regions, but the city has yet to recover. “Homs’ population was about 650,00 before the war,” a police source said. “It’s now between one-quarter and 30 percent of that.”

The humanitarian information website ReliefWeb studied health conditions in Homs and concluded:

“All communities reported that they were unable to empty septic tanks and that connections to the sewage system were blocked, and 65 percent reported having insufficient water to meet household needs, including Zafaraniya (neighborhood). Zafaraniya was also one of two communities that reported communicable diseases as a predominant health challenge.”

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