Siege of Homs
|Siege of Homs|
|Part of the Syrian Civil War|
Tanks shelling Baba Amr, Homs.
|Commanders and leaders|
|Abdul Qadir al-Homsi †
(FSA provincial commander)
Khadar Al Halouani †
(FSA Homs city commander)
Col. Fatih Fahd Hasoon
(FSA provincial Military Council leader)
Lt. Abdul Razzaq Tlass (Farouq Brigades Commander; until October 2012)
Lt. Abu Sayeh Juneidi (Farouq Brigades Commander; since October 2012)
Abdul Rahman Orfalli †
Mohammed al-Sukni (Liwaa Al-Umma Commander)
Abdelbasset Saroot (WIA)
(Bayyada Martyrs Battalion commander)
Ahmad Hassan Abou Assaad al-Sharkassi †
(Bayyada Martyrs Battalion commander)
Abou Souffiane †
(Ahl Al Athar Brigade commander)
|Gen. Maher al-Assad
(since February 2012)
Gen. Ghassan Afif
Gen. Mohamed Maaruf
Gen. Abdo al-Tallawi †
Gen. Nizar al-Hussein †
|Free Syrian Army:
Khalid bin Walid battalion
Elements of: 14th Special Forces Division
|Casualties and losses|
|2,000–2,200 killed (June 2012–May 2014)
(by late July 2012)
|859 soldiers and policemen killed (by mid-Feb. 2012)|
The Siege of Homs was a military confrontation between the Syrian military and the Syrian opposition in the city of Homs as a part of the Syrian Civil War. The siege lasted three years from May 2011 to May 2014 and resulted in an opposition withdrawal from the city.
Nationwide anti-government protests began in March 2011, and clashes between security forces and protestors in Homs intensified in April. In May 2011, the Syrian military conducted a crackdown against anti-government protesters, some of whom were armed and fired on security forces. Unlike previous crackdowns conducted elsewhere in Syria, the operation in Homs failed to quell the unrest. The city was also unique for its relatively high level of sectarian violence. As soldiers defected and protesters took up arms, the situation evolved into prolonged street fighting between security forces and insurgents, who gained ground and the control of several quarters of the city.
In October and November, rebels in Homs effectively resisted attempts by the Syrian military to enter the rebel-controlled district of Baba Amr. The district was described as a refuge for army defectors. In late December 2011, an Arab mission was sent to monitor the situation following the Arab League plan. Following the abortive mission, the Syrian Army in February 2012 launched an offensive against Baba Amr, shelling the entire district and blocking all supply routes. In early March, government forces launched a ground assault into Baba Amr, forcing the rebels to withdraw from the neighborhood.
By early May 2012, following a UN brokered cease-fire, only sporadic street fighting and shelling occurred. During this time, the government was in control of most of the city. The opposition held between 15% and 20% of Homs while fighting for control of a similar-sized area was still ongoing. In December 2012, the Syrian Army captured the district of Deir Baalba, leaving only the Old City, Khalidiya district, and a few other areas under rebel control. In early March 2013, government forces launched an assault into several rebel-controlled neighborhoods, but the rebels, reinforced by units that arrived from the nearby rebel-controlled town of al-Qusayr, managed to repel the attacks. In mid-March, rebels attempted to retake Baba Amr, but were forced to pull back later in the month. An April offensive led by Hezbollah, a Lebanese group allied with the Assad government, into rebel-held villages near al-Qusayr compelled the rebels to halt their operations in Homs and send reinforcements to al-Qusayr. Three months later, in late July, government forces captured the Khalidiya district.
In early May 2014, following an agreement reached between the government and the rebels, rebel forces were allowed to evacuate the city, leaving Homs under full government control.
- 1 Background
- 2 The Siege
- 2.1 May 2011 protests
- 2.2 July–October 2011
- 2.3 November 2011 operation
- 2.4 Escalation of the fighting and rebels gaining ground (November and December)
- 2.5 Arab League mission and decrease in fighting
- 2.6 January 2012 fighting and clashes
- 2.7 February 2012 army offensive
- 2.8 Karm al-Zeitoun massacre
- 2.9 March 2012 shelling and fighting
- 2.10 During the UN brokered cease-fire
- 2.11 June 2012 army offensive
- 2.12 Stalemate
- 2.13 October 2012 army offensive
- 2.14 December 2012 situation
- 2.15 January–February 2013 army offensive and rebel counter-offensive
- 2.16 March 2013 renewed army offensive and rebel counter-offensive
- 2.17 Old Homs and Khalidiya separated
- 2.18 June–July 2013 army offensive and capture of Khalidiya
- 2.19 Siege of Old Homs
- 2.20 Humanitarian operation
- 2.21 March–April 2014 army offensive and rebel counter-offensive
- 2.22 Rebel retreat from Homs
- 3 International reactions
- 4 In popular culture
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
On 15 March, a protest movement against the Syrian government began to escalate, as simultaneous demonstrations took place in major cities across Syria. Major issues included government corruption and repression. The protests spread to Homs on 18 March, after online calls for a "Friday of Dignity" (Arabic: جمعة الكرامة). Thousands of protesters took to the streets after Friday prayers. Attempting to disperse the crowds, police conducted many arrests and assaulted protesters. As protests continued into April, security forces fired on demonstrators, resulting in dozens of deaths. Homs became one of the most restive cities in Syria, with some activists labeling it the "Capital of the Revolution".
May 2011 protests
On 6 May, following the successful operation against protestors in Daraa, the Syrian military confronted and clashed with protesters, after Friday prayers, in Homs. During the fighting 15 protesters were killed, according to the opposition, while the government stated that 11 soldiers and policemen were killed, including five at one checkpoint, after they were attacked by unknown gunmen. The following day, an operation was started in another protester stronghold, the town of Baniyas. On 8 May, following the deadly clashes two days before, tanks rolled into several districts of Homs and started a man hunt for all known opposition activists and supporters. The night before the start of the operation, the military cut electricity to the city. During the assault, Army units entered the districts of Bab Baba and Sebaa Amr.
On 8 May, unidentified gunmen attacked a bus, carrying workers who were returning from work in Lebanon to Homs, killing 10 people and wounding three.
By 10 May, total control was established over the city by the military. However, the next morning, tank and machine gun fire was heard in the Bab Amr district of Homs and some nearby villages. Five to nine people were reported to have been killed in the clashes.
On 12 May, it was reported that security forces arrested a veteran human rights campaigner, Naji Tayara. An unidentified source, quoted on the Syria Comment website, stated that the vast majority of Homs was against the protests and that the unrest was led by two or three tribes. This was partially confirmed with the fact that Bedouin villages in the area were also targeted by the military operation.
On 20 May, anti-Assad protests were met with machine gun fire from security forces leaving 11 people dead. One week later, on 27 May, another protest was attempted by the opposition. This was again suppressed by the military in clashes that left 3 people dead. On 30 May, seven protestors and one member of the security forces were killed in clashes in Homs.
On 17 July 2011, a military operation was launched by the Syrian Army and 30 people were reportedly killed in the city. The operation was apparently prompted after three government supporters were kidnapped a week prior and killed, with their dismembered bodies being returned to their relatives on 17 July.
Starting in September 2011, Homs saw a relatively high level of sectarian violence. As soldiers defected and protesters took up arms, the situation evolved into prolonged street fighting between security forces and insurgents, who gained ground and control of several quarters of the city.
All through September and October there were reported clashes in the northern section of the city, especially the neighborhood of Dayr Baalba. There was also occasional violence in Bab al-Sebaa, Baba Amr and other places. In late September, fighting in the nearby town of Rastan forced several rebel groups to flee to Homs.
On the night of 28 October, fierce clashes involving the Free Syrian Army broke out in Bab al-Sebaa. The next day, these clashes spread to Baba Amr and al-Qusur. During the street fighting in Bab al-Sebaa district, 17 soldiers were killed, while in Baba Amr 20 soldiers were killed and 53 wounded.
November 2011 operation
On 3 November, tanks opened fire on the Baba Amr district, where the soldiers were killed several days before. More than 100 people, including civilians, were reportedly killed by the next day. It was reported that several tanks were destroyed by the Free Syrian Army.
On 8 November, it was reported that the Syrian Army took firm control of the Bab Amr quarter in Homs and that the armed defectors went into hiding.
On 24 November, 11 defecting soldiers were killed and four wounded during clashes on the western outskirts of Homs. Later, the military conducted raids against farms further to the west killing another 15 people.
Escalation of the fighting and rebels gaining ground (November and December)
On 25 November, six elite pilots, one technical officer and three other personnel were killed in Homs in an ambush. The Syrian government vowed to "cut every evil hand" of the attackers as a result. The Free Syrian army claimed responsibility for the attack on the air base staff.
In early December a Sky News correspondent, Stuart Ramsay, was able to smuggle himself and his crew, with help of defectors from the FSA, into Homs where he reported heavy fighting each day despite the heavy presence of Syrian army checkpoints. Moreover, the Free Syrian Army was able to build up checkpoints in the city as well aimed at protection of civilians during demonstrations in suburbs and city alleys after the central square became too dangerous. Video surfaced that purportedly showed defectors in control of Bab Amr again, with a checkpoint at the entrance to check for "Shabiha infiltrators". According to his account, Homs was clearly a war zone which had already slipped into full-scale civil war.
On 4 December, heavy fighting raged during which at least five FSA insurgents were killed and one wounded.
Around 5 December, 61 people were reported to be dead, 34 Sunnis and 27 Alawites. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an activist on the ground reported seeing "the bodies of 34 civilians, in a square in the pro-regime neighbourhood of Al-Zahra, who had been abducted by the shabiha [pro-government militia] on Monday", according to the AFP news agency. The civilians, the group said, had been seized from several "anti-regime neighbourhoods" in Homs, probably meaning Bab Amr. The Observatory also reported the "shabiha" abducted a bus driver and his 13 passengers in Homs province on the 5th. Both sides blamed each other for the killings, but both the pro- and anti-government forces stated that each side had enough motive for the killings of the Sunnis and the Alawites, showing the beginning of possible sectarian violence in the conflict.
On 8 December, a pipeline carrying oil from the east of the country to a refinery in Homs was blown up, an activist group said. "This is the main pipeline that feeds the Homs refinery," said Rami Abdulrahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group said flames could be seen at the site of the explosion. Video footage on the Internet of the purported blast site showed black clouds of smoke rising above a built-up area. One military tank was destroyed and seen burning on a city street.
On 9 December, fears of a massacre by government forces were building, due to a build up of troops, government militia (Shabeeha) and 500 tanks on the outskirts of the city and an increasing number of checkpoints.
On 18 December, fierce fighting between regular army units and defectors near the town of al-Qusair in Homs, six soldiers were killed in the clashes, including an officer. According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, "Three armoured vehicles were destroyed and those inside were wounded and killed," a civilian was also apparently killed in the violence.
In mid-December Der Spiegel crew managed to smuggle themself inside the city of Homs where they witnessed the Baba Amr district being completely under control of FSA fighters with checkpoints erected at the edge of the district. According to local FSA commander Shabeeha and army snipers were positioned in approximately 200 places in Homs and were shooting on everything that moved in designated zones like Cairo street which runs through the center of the city. Although FSA defectors did not have power to stand against the all-out assault on Baba Amr by Syrian Army they revealed that they plan to withdraw from district and wait for main bulk of Syrian army forces to withdraw from district as they did in October.
On 24 December, thousands of troops poured into the city and around 4,000 soldiers surrounded the Baba Amr district, digging trenches. The military started an attack on five neighbourhoods and heavy shelling was reported deep into the night. The military continued their shelling until 26 December, killing 33–34 people on the third day of the bombardment.
Arab League mission and decrease in fighting
In early December, the Syrian government accepted an Arab League plan to send observers to monitor the situation on the ground and agreed to withdraw army equipments from cities. On 27 December, activists told al arabiya that at least 61 civilians had died in the shelling of Homs in recent days but reported withdrawal of Syrian army tanks and halt of ongoing military operations by Syrian army in the city.
Some 70,000 protests gathered in central Homs during the official visit of Arab League observer mission and were later dispersed by tear gas. The head of the Syrian National Council (SNC) Burhan Ghalioun said that the Syrian government will not permit the Arab observers in Homs to tour the streets or to visit Baba Amr neighborhood.
On 28 December, the head of the Arab League observers said that the situation was calm in Homs and that there were no clashes. He said that they saw some armored vehicles but no tanks. Overall he judged the situation "reassuring so far". He said "there were some places where the situation was not good", and called for further inquiry. However, one of the monitors spoke to Al Jazeera from Syria on the condition of anonymity said the situation in Homs is "very dangerous" and that it is under constant shelling, and many videos posted online by activists seems to show the orange vested monitors under fire in Homs. He said that some areas are under the control of the Free Syrian Army, army defectors.
Human Rights Watch later accused Syria's government of hiding hundreds of prisoners held in its crackdown from Arab observers visiting the country, saying Syrian authorities have transferred perhaps hundreds of detainees to off-limits military sites to hide them from Arab League monitors in the country.
Human Rights Watch interviewed a Syrian security officer in Homs, who said that he received orders from his prison director to assist with irregular detainee transfers. He said the orders came after President Bashar al-Assad's government. "He estimated that on 21 and 22 December approximately 400 to 600 detainees were moved out of his detention facility to other places of detention." "The transfers happened in installments," the unidentified official was quoted as saying. "Some detainees were moved in civilian jeeps and some in cargo trucks. My role was inside the prison, gathering the detainees and putting them in the cars. My orders from the prison director were to move the important detainees out," he said. He said they were being taken to a military missile factory in Zaidal, just outside of Homs.
Human Rights Watch said his account was corroborated by other witnesses, including a detainee who said that among 150 people being held at one site were people who worked with journalists, defectors, and protesters. Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director, said the security officer also told HRW that the Syrian government was issuing police identification cards to its military officials, which the rights watchdog said was in violation of the Arab League accord. "Dressing soldiers in police uniforms does not meet the Arab League call to withdraw the army," said Whitson."The Arab League needs to cut through Syrian government deception by pushing for full access to anywhere Syria is holding detainees."
Activists and human rights groups have strongly criticized the head of the Arab League monitors, Omar Idilbi of the Local Coordination Committees, described Dabi as a "senior officer with an oppressive regime that is known to repress opposition", adding that there are fears he might not be neutral. Haytham Manna, a prominent Paris-based dissident, urged the Arab League to replace Dabi or reduce his authority. "We know his history and his shallow experience in the area," he said. Amnesty International also criticized Dabi, saying that he led Bashir's military intelligence service until August 1995, when he was appointed head of external security in Sudan. "During the early 1990s, the military intelligence in Sudan was responsible for the arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance, and torture or other ill-treatment of numerous people in Sudan," it said in a statement. "The Arab League's decision to appoint as the head of the observer mission a Sudanese general on whose watch severe human rights violations were committed in Sudan risks undermining the League's efforts so far and seriously calls into question the mission's credibility," Amnesty said. "He won't be neutral, and would sympathise with those in similar positions, thus it won't be surprising if he supports and sympathises with the Syrian regime and its henchmen who are committing crimes against humanity round the clock in Syria," the head of the Syrian League, Abd-al-Karim al-Rayhawi, told the BBC. General Dabi is wanted by the ICC as they have linked him to genocide against opposition in Darfur.
January 2012 fighting and clashes
The exiled spokesman of the armed rebels regrouped under the Free Syrian Army. In early January they called the Arab League mission a failure and stated that they did not want them to stay in Syria even though the Syrian Army withdrew its heavy weapons from the city. The mission was finally ended at the end of the month.
On 4 January, Basil al-Sayed, who regularly filmed security forces cracking down on anti-government protesters in his neighbourhood of Bab Amr in Homs, died in a local hospital of gunshot wounds on 27 December, according to news reports. He was reportedly shot by security forces. His footage appeared on the sites of loose-knit citizen news organisations. The Committee to Protect Journalists says it is investigating the circumstances surrounding the death.
On 11 January, A France 2 journalist Gilles Jacquier, who covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Algeria among others, was among several people killed in Syria's central city of Homs, becoming the first Western reporter to have died in the unrest in the country. A witness in Homs, who asked not to be named, said the casualties were caused by rocket-propelled grenades fired during a pro-Assad rally, while according to a journalist who was quoted by CNN Nic Robertson, with Jacquier in Homs, said that the attack was carried out by mortar. Rami Abdul Rahman, of the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, quoted activists in Homs as saying the journalists had been near the Akrama neighbourhood of Homs at the time. State TV SANA later claimed a colonel was captured by an "armed terrorist group" in Homs.
A BBC journalist told Le Figaro that the journalist was killed when a rocket targeted a pro-Assad rally in an Alawi quarter of Homs, although another journalist said that Jacquier had been travelling in a vehicle with other journalists that had been hit by an RPG. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, and Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, condemned the killing and called on Syrian authorities to shed "full light" on the circumstances of his death. Meanwhile, The SNC denounced the "murder" of Jacquier, saying it was a "dangerous sign that the authorities have decided to physically liquidate journalists in an attempt to silence neutral and independent media." Anti-government activists in Homs also said the authorities had orchestrated the attack, and Wissam Tarif, an Arab campaigner with international activist non-governmental organization Avaaz, undermined the government's claims. "The journalists were attacked in a heavily militarized regime stronghold. It would be hugely difficult for any armed opposition to penetrate the area and launch such a deadly attack," he said. Tarif also said the incident was an "unacceptable breach of the Arab League protocol", to which Syria has committed itself and which requires journalists to have freedom to report across Syria. "The regime has denied journalists free access to the country, forcing them to join press tours organized by the ministry of information and chaperoned closely by regime minders," he said. However, Arab League mission reports from Homs indicate that Gilles Jacquier was killed by mortar shells fired by opposition forces.
On 22 January, two Swiss journalists blamed Syrian authorities for the death of their French colleague killed in Homs. Patrick Vallelian and Sid Ahmed Hammouche told the Associated Press that they believe the attack was part of an elaborate trap set up by Syrian authorities. The two Swiss reporters and Jacquier were part of a group of foreign journalists being escorted through Homs by Syrian soldiers and intelligence officials. Vallelian, of the weekly L'Hebdo, and Hammouche, of the daily La Liberte, newspapers said the soldiers appeared to know in advance that the attack was going to happen.
On 23 January, a military officer at the main city hospital claimed to foreign journalists that rebels have taken control over two-thirds of the city with army casualties being at 4 to 5 dead and 10 to 50 wounded soldiers and security officials per day. This claim was backed up by the opposition forces stating that they had indeed managed to wrestle control of over half the city. Residents of Homs also largely corroborate these reports.
On 24 January, the LCC reported that at least 18 people were killed when the army shelled two buildings in the district of Bab Tadmor in Homs. A resident said "The buildings were six-story buildings. Many families remain missing. It is hard to confirm the exact number of those killed. A video posted on the internet shows two destroyed buildings, reduced to rubble said to have been the two attacked buildings.
On 27 January a brutal attack took place against Sunni Muslims in Homs killing at least 30 people. Firstly, the Syrian government fired heavy mortar rounds on the Karm al-Zeitoun neighborhood of Homs, killing at least 16 people. Then Pro-assad militia called "shabiba" entered a building in the neighbourhood, and killed 14 members of a Sunni family. The Bahader family was found shot and hacked to death, the dead included 8 children under the age of 9. YouTube video footage was taken by activists, showing the family members dead bodies, with wounds to the head and neck including children. There was no comment from the Syrian authorities, but a doctor in Homs said "Alawites who had remained in Karm al-Zeitoun mysteriously left four days ago, and the rumor was that they did so on orders by the authorities. Today we know why. We also have seventy people wounded. Field hospitals themselves are coming under mortar fire."
Activists reported that the Syrian army killed eight civilians and that 15 government soldiers were killed by defectors while the Syrian army entered the Al-Adawiya district, driving out the FSA rebels. The Syrian Al-Watan newspaper reported that 37 rebel fighters were killed in the fighting in Homs. Video footage was posted online reportedly showing a captured government BMP-1, being used in Homs by the FSA's forces. It bears two flags of the Syrian opposition, and is seen firing with armed men in civilian clothes backing it up, and taking cover behind it.
The Free Syrian Army assaulted on, 1 February, the government-controlled district of Bab Drib, which was used as a staging post for Syrian army raids and shelling of other districts such as Karm Al Zeitoun. France 24 journalist saw on the ground at least four FSA vehicles making their way to the frontline. Video obtained by France 24 later showed the FSA overruning the former military base in Bab Drib district. At least four government soldiers were killed in the assault.
The next day, it appeared that another military checkpoint fell to the FSA.
February 2012 army offensive
Following the killing of 10 Syrian Army soldiers at a checkpoint and the capture of 19 by the Free Syrian Army, during the night hours of 3 February and into the early hours of the following day, on the 30th anniversary of the Hama massacre, government forces began an artillery bombardment of Homs, particularly the Khaldiyeh neighborhood, with opposition activists claiming that it led to over 200 deaths. According to the opposition activist group SOHR, after more than two hours oov, his colleague Peter Beaumont and Syrian self-described 'citizen journalist' Omar Shakir all tweeting that the Syrian Army had not entered the district.
The opposition Syrian National Council claimed the death toll was at 416 residents of the city. They also cited residents as saying at least 36 houses were completely destroyed with families still inside. According to an Al Arabiya correspondent in Homs, the district hospital was also destroyed. The correspondent claimed that at least 337 people had been killed and over 1,600 people were injured in the shelling. However, the SNC and Al Arabiya figures were not independently confirmed and several international media outlets including Reuters, France 24, BBC and CNN) still reported the toll of around 200. The FSA vowed to fight back with intense operations against the governments' forces and claimed to have destroyed an air intelligence building in Homs. Opposition activists posted many videos of burning buildings and dead bodies that they claimed occurred in Homs. Some footage showed buildings reduced to rubble from shelling. At least 30 buildings, including a hospital, were destroyed or severely damaged in the shelling.
According to SOHR, in addition to the civilian deaths, 14 soldiers and five army defectors were also killed in the shelling and fighting.
The Local Coordination Committees also initially claimed that the death toll was more than 200 people, saying that they were working to confirm the number of deaths. They later revised their figures with a confirmation of 55 deaths. On 5 February, the LCC stated that 181 people had been killed in Homs.
On 6 February, there were reports of new shelling in Bab Amr, an opposition quarter of Homs. A death toll of 12 people killed was given by activists. Other activists gave a different death toll of 50. Residents called as witnesses said that 150 armored vehicles were on the outskirts of the quarters On 8 February activists reported an unverified death toll of 48 people killed. They also reported that tanks entered the Inshaat neighborhood. In Bayyada quarter of Homs, a bomb placed in a car killed several people, with civilians and security forces being among the casualties. On 9 February, activists said 93 people were killed in Homs by artillery shelling. Another group of activist gave a lower death toll of 57 dead. On 10 February an FSA spokesman reported that Ahmed Jumrek, an FSA colonel, died in the shelling along with four other rebel fighters. Activists stated that tanks of governments forces were stationed in the Inshaat quarter, firing on Bab Amr from a bridge. They also reported that soldiers were damaging stores and cars while conducting a house-to-house sweep. On 11 February activists reported that Syrian Army tanks started moving from the Inshaat quarter to the edge of the Bab Al Amr district.
An FSA fighter told British journalist Paul Wood, that they summary executed 11 prisoners of war under the pretext that they were Shabiha, following an ambush of armored vehicles in December, during which eight other soldiers were also killed. He also showed him video which he claimed was from one of the Shabiha cellphones showing beheading of opposition prisoners. On 14 February an FSA commander told reporters that his men had repelled a ground assault on Bab amr district, saying that four government tanks had been destroyed when they tried to enter, although his claims could not be verified.
On 22 February 2012, American journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik were killed when a rocket hit their safe house. The day before her death one of them, Colvin, had spoken to CNN and others of the "absolutely sickening", indiscriminate attacks on civilians as the government pursued its objectives. Another photographer, Paul Conroy, and French journalist Edith Bouvier (Le Figaro) were also injured during the attack. Nicolas Sarkozy described the killing as assassination. It is believed possible the journalists were targeted. The editor of The Sunday Times also said he believed his reporter had been targeted.
Seven civilian activists were found executed by the Syrian government because they had been collaborating with the Avaaz action group. The group had been delivering medical aid to Homs. Two others, including a foreigner, remained missing. The foreigner was a paramedic with the group when Avaaz did not reveal his name or nationality, but alerted the country's embassy. "They carried a respirator and medicines," An Avaaz activist said. After losing contact with them, a member of the network on Wednesday "found seven of them shot dead, with hands tied behind their backs... just before the entrance to Baba Amr," the activist told AFP. "Those were civilian activists, unpaid volunteers," he said, accusing the "Shabiha (pro-regime militia) or armed forces" of killing the men whose ages ranged between 16 and 24.
On 27 February 2012, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 68 bodies were found between the villages of Ram al-Enz and Ghajariyeh and were taken to the central hospital of Homs. The wounds showed that some of the dead were shot while others were killed by cutting weapons. The Local Coordination Committees, another opposition group, reported that 64 dead bodies were found, all adult men. These two sources hypothesized that the victims were civilians who tried to flee the battle in Homs and were then killed by a pro-government militia.
However, other activists reported another version of the killings, saying that the victims were Alawites, from the same sect as the president. The bodies were recovered in pro-government areas. An injured journalist was successfully smuggled into Lebanon by Syrian rebels and volunteers, but the attempt cost the life of a number of rebel soldiers and of 13 volunteers out of the 35 that the Avaaz group sent. The death toll of the operation was later revised to 23 killed.
Fall of Baba Amr
On 28 February reinforcements from an elite Syrian military unit, directed by the brother of the Syrian president, took positions in Homs. They managed to completely seal off the city, notably by destroying a tunnel. On the morning of 29 February, an activist claimed that the Syrian Army had launched a ground assault with infantry on the rebel-held district of Baba Amr. A Syrian official who spoke on condition of anonymity appeared to confirm that the security forces were advancing on this district, were "cleaning" it from rebel fighters, and that the operation would be over in a matter of hours. However, as more reports started to emerge in the late afternoon, it seemed that a ground invasion had not taken place after all, with The Guardian 's Middle East correspondent Martin Chulov, his colleague Peter Beaumont and Syrian self-described 'citizen journalist' Omar Shakir all tweeting that the Syrian Army had not entered the district.
Heavy shelling reportedly continued, meanwhile. Although the FSA Farouq Brigades defending Baba Amr stated that they would fight to the last man, it was reported that some of the FSA leaders already made an escape from the district.
On the morning of 1 March, the situation was very confused due to a total information blackout from Baba Amr. Two opposition groups said that the Syrian Army did not take the quarter, while according to another the army took a portion of the quarter, Avaaz group reported. The Revolutionary Council of Homs said that they had no news on the situation in Baba Amr.
Later in the day, the Syrian Army took full control of the quarter of Baba Amr according to a Syrian official. Rebel leaders reported that they pulled out of the quarter and that some fighters stayed to cover the retreat. During their retreat, 17 rebels were captured by the military and executed on the spot. The activist group Avaaz, for its part, claimed they were civilians and that they were beheaded, but this was not confirmed by other sources. Aid groups said they had received the green light from the army to deliver the needed supplies and treatments though government soldiers then held them up, amid suspicions this was to cover up crimes they were in process of committing. ICRC then reported it had been denied access to Baba Amr, calling it 'unacceptable'.[full citation needed] The UN High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCR) said it had received reports of executions in Homs. At a later date, an FSA commander stated that out of 250 rebel fighters defending the district 114 were killed in the fighting.
The conquest of the quarter of Baba Amr by the Syrian Army provoked multiple reactions from analysts and officials. An analyst close to the Syrian government named Taleb Ibrahim commented that it was the beginning of the victory, commenting that the army had broken the back of the armed opposition. Free Syrian Army commander Riad al-Asaad vowed to continue to fight until the fall of the government and said that his troops had to leave because of the poor conditions of the civilians. A Lebanese official said that the Syrian Army wanted to retake Homs at all costs and noted that such an outcome would leave the opposition without a stronghold. Ayham Kamel, a Middle East analyst, analyzed that the Syrian Army used Baba Amr to send the message that it was still the dominant force on the battleground. He noted in addition that Baba Amr was a significant base for the organization and weapons supplies of the opposition. The first March the opposition was able to smuggle French journalists, the last who remained in the city, Edith Bouvier and William Daniels, into Lebanon in an operation which cost the life of 6 Free Syrian Army members. British journalist Paul Conroy, who escaped the city a few days ago, described the situation as an "indiscriminate massacre" and "slaughter" and compared Homs to the Battle of Grozny.
Fleeing residents gave reports to a BBC journalist of atrocities in Homs. Fleeing refugees said that Government loyalists had rounded up 36 men and boys in the district and killed them. Witnesses said that the loyalists had been cutting the throats of prisoners. This is while men from an elite army division defected and said that they defected because they had received orders to shoot everything, military and civilian alike and one said he witnessed his commander executing an old man. On 5 March 2012, Channel 4 News showed film from the military hospital in Homs showing evidence of covert abuse, of injured civilians being subjected to torture - electrocutions, leg breaking, beatings with whips and electrical cable, shackled to beds, penises tied to prevent urination, gangrene left untreated by antibiotics. Residents of Bab Amr were very angry about the Free Syrian Army decision to withdraw, and one of them said that rebels were cowards to leave, and added that if they were to withdraw, they should have done it the first day and not after one month of siege. The rebels pulled back again, leaving in a hurry a village just outside Homs.
The Syrian newspaper Al-Watan reported that bodies of foreigners were found, including the body of a European, who allegedly carried the passport of the journalist Espinoza, and the government claimed he "was suspected of commanding a group of rebels". An FSA commander stated that five Libyans among the rebels had been killed in the fighting in Homs.
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos has said that the Syrian city of Homs had been "completely devastated" and heard gunfire there during a visit on 7 March, her spokeswoman had told the AFP news agency. Amos was also stopped from going into areas in Homs still held by the opposition after Syria's foreign minister had told her she could go to any part of the country, UN humanitarian affairs spokeswoman Amanda Pitt said.
A BBC journalist, Paul Wood, returning to Homs in early March, reported that he encountered many groups of women and children, without men, who told stories of raids and of massacres and of a populace terrified of what the government forces are doing now they are back in control.
Karm al-Zeitoun massacre
On 9 March, 30 tanks of the Syrian Army entered the quarter of Karm al-Zeitoun. After this, it was reported that the Syrian Army had massacred 47 women and children in the district (26 children and 21 women), some of whom had their throats slit, according to activists. The opposition claimed that the main perpetrators behind the killings were the government paramilitary force the Shabiha. The Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition group, called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting to discuss the "massacre", which it said took place on 11 March. Hadi Abdallah, a Syrian activist, said: "Some of the children had been hit with blunt objects on their head, one little girl was mutilated and some women were raped before being killed," he said. Video footage was made of the bodies. The Syrian Government acknowledged that the massacre had indeed taken place, but claimed that "armed gangs" in the district killed them.
On 13 March, opposition activists posted a video on the internet puporting to show the army shelling the district of Karm al-Zeitoun.
March 2012 shelling and fighting
On 20 March, 14 were reported killed from a new round of shelling, which continued into the next day, hitting the opposition stronghold neighborhoods of Khalidiya, Qussor, and Bayada in northern Homs. The military also reportedly entered Khalidiya. The opposition activist group, the L.C.C., stated that another 40 people were killed on the second day of the bombardment, including 25 in Khalidiya.
On 24 March, most rebel forces retreated from the Bab Sbaa district, under intense shelling, as the military moved in and a number of civilians were also attempting to leave the neighborhood. However, activists reported the neighbourhood was still under bombardment of heavy shelling as of 26 March. Still, an activist stated that the FSA presence in the district was small and they were not in a position to do anything. Another activist also later confirmed the capture of the district.
On 2 April, about 40 FSA members captured the National Hospital in Juret al-Shayah district. They found 78 corpses "stacked in a hospital refrigerator".
In renewed fighting on 8 April, mortars were described as falling "like rain" on the opposition-held neighbourhood of Khaldiyeh, according to an activist. A makeshift hospital was allegedly stacked with 40 bodies which the opposition were desperately trying to keep cool with fans. According to the activist, they may have to be buried "in public gardens" due to a lack of other feasible options.
During the UN brokered cease-fire
On 14 April, into the morning major shelling happened in the districts of Juret al-Shayah and al-Qarabis that violated the Kofi Annan truce that was implemented the same day.
On 15 April, the Syrian Army was reported to be shelling the neighborhood of al-Waer from the nearby military academy. SANA also reported that terrorists killed 12 civilians in the Alawite, pro-Assad, neighborhood of al-Zahra in what seemed like an FSA attack on the neighborhood.
On 16 April, heavy shelling was coming from three sides into al-Khalidiya. The government also stormed al-Bayada and took control of half of it. They were also trying to storm Juret al-Shayah and al-Qarabis, but were being repelled by the FSA.
On 20 April, a rebel leader stated that 2,000 rebels fighters of the Farouq Brigades had been killed in Homs province since August 2011. By this point, there were talks among the rebels in Qusayr, where most of the surviving Baba Amr rebels fled, of Homs being abandoned entirely.
Sky News correspondent, Tim Marshall, was in the rebel-held al-Khalidiya district. Marshall claimed that the FSA still controlled large areas of the city. Hundreds of civilians still lived in Khalidiya, despite heavy shelling. The Homs National Hospital in Juret al-Shayah district, captured by the FSA weeks before, had been reportedly badly damaged by government artillery shelling. Marshall's report, on 1 May, stated that Army snipers were still active in the city. In many streets, sheets of tarpaulin hang from one side to the other and concrete walls had been put up to prevent the snipers from having a clear line of sight into Khalidiya. In some smaller streets, which the snipers can see clearly, people had to break into a sprint to cross. The Homs FSA commander, Abdul Razzack Tlas, pointed to the sniper activity as a violation of the UN ceasefire, even though the UN said that neither side is completely abiding by the ceasefire.
By late April, UN military observers noted a rare lull in the fighting in Homs and by early May, military offensive operations in the city had ceased although sporadic street fighting and shelling continued. The government controlled most of the city, however, the opposition still held onto 15 to 20 percent of the city, with a similar area still being contested.
In May, the Armenian Church reported that the Armenian Apostolic Church in the Hamida district of Homs had been seized by opposition forces, who then set up a hospital inside the church's Isahakyan school.
On 24 May, a UN panel reported that, beside a number of human rights violations committed by the Syrian military, observing that "state security forces continued to use lethal force against anti-government demonstrations in Idlib, Homs, Aleppo, Hama , Damascus - " and that "too often civilians bore the brunt of the violence" - the rebel FSA was also responsible for the torture and execution of a number of captured soldiers. The sources for the panel's report included eyewitness accounts from FSA fighters who were involved in the killings. One defector belonging to the Farouq Brigades stated that they executed government soldiers after they confessed, during torture, to crimes against civilians. Among those killed were allegedly three Iranian snipers. In the Jabal al Zawiya and Deir Sinbal districts, FSA makeshift prisons were reportedly set up for captured soldiers.
On 26 May, British foreign secretary William Hague said Britain would co-ordinate a "strong response" to the massacre in Houla, a town near Homs, and a U.N Security council statement, approved also by Russia and China, condemned the killings - " the result of government artillery and tank shellings on a civilian neighbourhood." The government's alleged use of heavy weapons in civilian areas was condemned.
On 29 May, a young Syrian filmmaker Bassel Shahade who had filmed Homs during the conflict and appeared on a new show talking about how the army had besieged the city was killed in Homs.
On 30 May, opposition video allegedly showed the restart of shelling of the city by the military.
On 6 June, a CNN report showed Cairo St. (Al-Qahira St.) being a frontline between the FSA who controlled the district of al-Kalidiya and the Syrian government who controlled the district of al-Bayada. Several of the FSA fighters were former civilians and some were army defectors. The video showed them coordinating via radio and had made holes connecting one building to the next so they would not have to use the open streets.
June 2012 army offensive
On 8 June, it was reported that shelling had picked up in the FSA-held al-Kalidiyah, at a rate of 10 shells per minute. Following the shelling, the Syrian Army made an attempt to storm the district.
On 9 June, the Syrian Army stormed the rebel-held neighborhood of al-Ghouta and started conducting raids. Shelling was reported in several parts of the city during which 25 people died, including the mayor of the rebel-held neighborhood of al-Khalidiyah, which had been under heavy bombardment since the day before. With the capture of al-Ghouta the Army had completely encircled the city's rebel-held areas and cut them off from the outside world.
Early on 10 June, rebels captured an Air Force missile base north of Homs, with the help of 22 soldiers from the unit stationed there. They looted a number of assault rifles and rocket-propelled-grenades and threatened to fire the missiles at the presidential palace in Damascus if president al-Assad did not surrender. However, soon after, government artillery hit the base and an Army counter-attack recaptured it. The rebels were not able to take with them the large and heavy SA-2 surface-to-air missiles, which were fixed to the launchers. A satellite imagery provider showed the al-Ghanto base in flames following the artillery strikes. Opposition activists also reported a more intensified campaign of bombardment of Homs.
On 12 June, residents of the rebel-held neighborhood of al-Khalidiyah told Al Jazeera English that they had been trapped in their homes for three days with no electricity or water. Other neighborhoods were targeted by shelling as well. In the district of Bab Amr, which had been retaken by the Army in early March, videos appeared showing two government tanks getting blown up at the Kafar Aya checkpoint, one of the largest in the district. Local FSA units reportedly had relaunched attacks in the neighbourhood to decrease the pressure on al-Khalidiyah and other areas which were being shelled.
On 15 June, more fighting erupted with the Army reportedly shelling, among other rebel-held districts, Baba Amr. The FSA Baba Amr brigade claimed to had taken control over a checkpoint leading to the city two days before. The FSA stated their forces made an attempt to reclaim the Baba Amr district and had got to the entrance of the neighbourhood, but were repelled by Army helicopters.
Then, on 17 June, after intense fighting with government troops at the edge of Baba Amr, opposition activists claimed that rebel fighters reclaimed a large part of the area. However, this was not independently confirmed. The same day, an activist stated that the Army stepped up its offensive on the city, shelling neighbourhoods systematically. It was reported that the Shabiha took over all the city's hospitals, thus dozens of wounded were without treatment, and that the Army had cut each of Homs's districts from each other. An opposition campaigner claimed that "85% of Homs is now under shelling or bombardment with mortar rounds and heavy machine guns." The shelling was primarily hitting the remaining rebel-held areas in the neighborhoods of Old Homs, al-Khalidiya, Jourat al-Shayyah, Qarabis and al-Bayada.
The Syrian opposition said that, at that point, 30,000 soldiers and pro-government militiamen had amassed at the city. The SNC claimed there was a "looming massacre" approaching by claiming that the government was "getting ready to carry out a savage attack that might massacre the city's remaining residents."
On 19 June, widespread clashes around Baba Amr were reportedly continuing and black smoke was seen rising from the area after an oil pipeline was said to have been destroyed in the fighting.
Around 20 June, rebels launched a full-out offensive on Baba Amr district after rebels reportedly drove hundreds of soldiers from a pair of bases in the district. As a response, the military started using helicopter gunships in the city for the first time while rebel fighters were still holding out against military assaults on districts in Old Homs.
By this time, the city's remaining Christians were trapped by the fighting in the rebel-held districts of Hamidiyeh and Bustan Diwan. A fourth attempt at a negotiated ceasefire, to evacuate the trapped civilians, was underway. However, the chief negotiator felt hopeless. He said that in past attempts the Army had agreed to a two-hour truce to allow the mediators to evacuate the besieged people but they were blocked by the rebels. This was confirmed by at least on Homs resident, who stated that he feared the rebels wanted to keep the Christians trapped in the city as a bargaining chip while the Army’s bombardment and ground attacks on Homs intensified. Those who managed to sneak out settled in an area outside the city, dubbed as Valley of the Christians.
On 28 June, SANA claimed a number of violent incidents around Homs. In one, a group of rebels reportedly opened fire and killed a professor of al-Baath University in Homs. She was killed along with her mother, father and three of her sister's children. Soon after, security forces clashed with the group killing 10 rebels and wounding 20. Two of the dead were reportedly Arabs of foreign nationalities. At the same time, a security forces raid in the Taldaw suburb killed one rebel and seized a weapons cache. Also, the leader of a rebel group, Khaled al-Hamad, known as Abu Sakar, was killed during security operations along with a number of his fighters.
On 29 June, according to SANA, another rebel group leader was killed during fighting in the Joret al-Shayyah quarter of Homs. Other rebels were killed when an explosive device exploded in their weapons cache.
On 2 July, the rebel-held districts of Joret al-Shayyah, al-Khalidiyah and Old City came under sustained Army shelling.
On 3 July, the military made an attempt to storm Joret al-Shayyah.
On 5 July, the 29th day of the new military offensive, heavy artillery shelling continued to strike the Joret al-Shayyah neighborhood. Fighting was also underway in the Al Sultania district and locals had abandoned the Baba Amr district which was reportedly completely destroyed.
On 11 July, Joret al-Shayyah was still being shelled and the district of Qarabees was also hit.
A Press TV news crew visited Joret al-Shayyah and confirmed the area was contested territory with one part of the neighborhood being controlled by the military and the other by the rebels. An Army officer stated that his forces had killed or injured more than 400 rebels in the recent fighting in Joret al-Shayyah.
On 21 July, a riot began at the central prison's old building. Some guards defected and supported the rioters there. Security forces, however, surrounded the prison and clashed with prisoners leaving 3-4 people dead. Activists said between 5,000 and 6,000 prisoners were in Homs Central Prison and feared a massacre. Later, it was reported that the mutiny had been crushed.
On 29 July, SANA claimed that government troops killed 16 foreign rebel fighters and captured others in the city. The government-run news agency further alleged that a rebel leader, Hamza al-Tesh, was killed in al-Khalidya the following day.
On 4 August, state radio claimed that 40 rebel fighters were killed while others were wounded during a military operation in the al-Hamidieh district. The next dat, SANA claimed that dozens of rebels were killed and wounded when their ammunition depot exploded in the Jouret Ashayah district.
On 12 August, the military launched an incursion into the al-Shamas neighborhood and detained 350 people, mostly young men of military age. 10 of those detained were reportedly executed with the fate of the other 340 unknown. The opposition SNC claimed the executed men were civilians, while the activist group SOHR confirmed that people were detained but made no mention of executions. Three children on a minibus were killed as they tried to flee with their parents from the Shamas district during the military operation. After the operation, a Brigadier General defected, stating that the Shamas neighbourhood had no FSA elements and that the Shabiha were led by Iranian military advisors during the operation. The Syrian newspaper Watan, reported that 40 rebels were killed and 70 captured during operations in al-Shamas. The same day, the Army launched an operation in al-Hamidyeh, killing tens of rebels in two hideouts and destroying an ammunitiom dump. The Army also arrested 26 people in Tabliseh, state media reported.
On 13 August, a sergeant in the special forces who had defected claimed that Alawite officers ordered the rape of teenage girls in Homs, who would be shot afterwards. The defected sergeant further said that soldiers who refused were shot by the Army.
On 3 September, a colonel from the FSA announced the formation of a 'Revolutionary Military Council' in Homs, in a video uploaded to YouTube. In the video, Colonel Fatih Fahd Hasoon announced the formation of the council to unify all FSA brigades in the central Syrian province. He vowed the council would "free Syria from the brutal gangs of Assad's regime," and named himself as its leader.
On 5 September, Breaking News Network reported that 40 rebels where killed during clashes with the Syrian Army in Bab Hud neighborhood, 32 more rebels were killed in a qualitative operation, Sham media reported.
October 2012 army offensive
On 5 October, Homs experienced its worst bombardment in months when warplanes, tanks and artillery fired missiles and mortars at rebel controlled neighborhoods, including Old Homs, Khaldiya, Qusour and Jouret el-Shayah.
On 8 October, government forces advanced into the rebel-held Khalidiya district amid heavy fighting and what was described as the most vicious attack by the Army yet. The advance was confirmed by the rebels who stated they were forced to retreat due to the artillery fire destroying several buildings that were being used by the opposition fighters as a barrier between them and the military.
A military source said that the Army launched a broad offensive to take control of all remaining Homs quarters and the neighbouring city of Al Qusayr as well. The source expected the operation to take one week to be completed. However, Al Qusayr remained in the hands of rebels, who reported to have killed 60 Hezbollah fighters in the city. Another 16 were captured in the Sayida Zeinab and Qabboun districts of Homs, according to senior FSA members.
A Homs resident living in a rebel-held neighbourhood said that the shelling was very heavy. He added that the Syrian army was currently controlling 75% of the city and that the rest could fall at any moment because of the strength of the Army attack.
On 9 October, a resident living in rebel-controlled Hamidiya district described the Syrian army offensive as psychological warfare, saying that the Syrian army made little to no gains in Old Homs districts, being repeatedly repelled by rebel forces. This was in contrast with an opposition activist's confirmation that the army had "stormed part of Khaldiyeh" and the reported rebel retreat the previous day within the district, which was confirmed by rebel fighters. Also, the Army reported continued advances in the area, where they were reportedly pursuing rebel remnants.
On 10 October, the pro-government "Al Watan" newspaper said that the Syrian army controlled all of Homs except for a few neighborhoods still being held by the rebels. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an email that the Syrian army renewed shelling of the Khalidiya, Jouret Shiyah and Old Homs neighborhoods. Opposition activist Abu Bilal al-Homsi said via "Skype" to "AFP", from Old Holms, "We are surrounded completely, we have no outlet." He also called on non-governmental organizations to send aid, pointing out that "the hospitals overwhelmed with the wounded who need surgery and should be evacuated." Activists rejected Government claims about districts in the city of Homs and an FSA colonel pointed out that the Government hadn't seized control of any districts but “they are advancing in some districts and retreating in others.” he stressted that “al-Assad’s forces are able to do nothing more than storm the entrance of a district and then immediately withdraw, despite the magnitude of the destruction they are causing.”
On 12 October, the Syrian military launched another series of intense aerial and artillery bombardments on Homs and its surrounding towns. Khalidiya was especially hit hard, a day after the Army suffered heavy losses in an attempt to capture the district. Opposition activists claimed 50 soldiers and militiamen were killed.
On 13 October, the military reported killing 25 rebels in the Bab al-Hood district.
On 14 October, rebels were advancing towards the Southern Bab Amr district. An opposition spokesman said that "Everyday there are firefights between the regime and the FSA (Free Syria Army) in the Sultaniya neighborhood, The FSA has a lot of battalions in Homs. There are many dead from both the regime and the FSA." He added that "very few civilians remain in the neighborhoods around Homs." There was intense fighting in the Bab Hud and Bab al-Turkman districts with an unknown number of people on both sides being killed.
By late October, a Syrian army officer in Homs estimated that 1,500-2,000 rebels were left inside the Old City district. At this time, government troops cleared the Bab al-Sebaa area by capturing a school that was being used as a rebel stronghold.
December 2012 situation
By mid-December, the military had regained control of almost all of Homs, except the Old City and Khalidiya district, where rebels were still holding out under siege by the Army. The rebels continued to exchange sniper and mortar fire with government forces, but for the most part the city was calm and most of the city shops and markets were open and traffic was flowing freely. One bus driver stated "Homs is now safer than Damascus". One of a few areas where life still had not gone back to a full normal was the Armenian area, which reportedly was hit by several shells fired by the rebels from the Old City. On one occasion, a four-story building collapsed, killing five people and injuring 37 others. Fighter jets continued to bomb the rebel-held areas and Sky News described the scene in rebel-held areas and its frontlines as brutal low-tech guerilla war.
On 23 December, opposition activists claimed that the Syrian army launched bombs containing poisonous gas against rebel positions in the Bayada district, and that 6-7 rebels were killed from it with up to 70 others hurt. Residents said that they did not know the nature of the gas. The claim of the nerve agent use was supported by Maj-Gen Abdoul-Aziz Jassius al-Shallal, the former chief of the Syrian military police, who had defected to the opposition. An U.S. official told Danger Room that, based on the video of the victims, “It just doesn’t jive with chemical weapons”. The Israeli vice prime minister, Moshe Ya’alon, also voiced doubt at the rebel claims, citing the lack of corroboration to them.
On 24 December, the Syrian Army attacked the rebel-held district of Deir Baalba and by 29 December, after several days of heavy fighting, the military had captured the district as rebel forces retreated from the area. The neighborhood had been under siege for months. With the loss of Deir Baalba, rebel forces were left only with Khalidiya and the Old City as the last remaining neighborhoods under their control. The next day, the military launched barrages of rockets into the remaining rebel-held neighborhoods.
Following the capture of the district, opposition activists made claims that up to 150-220 people were rounded up by the military, taken to a petrochemical university and executed, with their bodies being burned or taken away. The opposition Shaam news network reported that about 150 charred bodies were found in the Deir Baalba neighborhood. However, there was no independent verification of the claims and one opposition activist was able to count only 27 bodies.
January–February 2013 army offensive and rebel counter-offensive
On 15 January, government troops overran the village of Basatin al-Hasawiya on the edge of the city. Opposition activists claimed that during the operation pro-government militiamen and soldiers massacred 106 civilians, including women and children, by shooting, stabbing or possibly burning them to death.
On 20 January, following rebel attempts to advance into new areas of Homs from the countryside, the Army launched a retaliatory offensive, to halt the rebel infiltration. Over three days, between 20 and 22 January, heavy fighting erupted in the western areas of Homs, where 130 soldiers and pro-government militiamen were killed or wounded, with 23 of them being confirmed as dead. By 25 January, 120 civilians and 30-40 rebels were also reported to had been killed. Opposition activists claimed 10,000 pro-government militiamen were brought in as reinforcements from Tartous for the offensive. The Army was focusing on securing a vital a road junction on the outskirts of the city, which is on a supply line to government forces further in the interior of the country. On 26 January, more than 20 additional rebels and civilians were killed in fighting in the Jobar-Kafraya farm area on the south-western edge of Homs. A doctor from a makeshift underground hospital reported that opposition forces and civilians were surrounded. Rebels from the nearby town of Qusair were attempting to relieve the pressure on opposition forces on the western edge of Homs and in a counter-offensive two days previously managed to push back government forces slightly. However, the military continued to pound the area with artillery and air-strikes and the armed opposition had been weakened in the city after a drop in ammunition supplies in the weeks before due to a tightening of the Army siege on western areas.
At the same time, BBC News reported that in the rest of the city, which is government-controlled, a 'fragile calm' had returned.
On 14 February, the Syrian army captured the southwestern Jobar district, after rebels withdrew from the area. A week before, the military had also seized the southwestern Kafraya district.
On 20 February, rebel activists distributed video of what they claimed was the destruction in the Al-Qarabis district after they reportedly stormed it and took control.
March 2013 renewed army offensive and rebel counter-offensive
On 3 March, government troops launched a major offensive into rebel-held territory in Homs. The neighborhoods attacked were the Old City, Jouret al-Shiah, Khaldiyeh, and Qarabees. It was reported to be the worst fighting in months as scores of dead on both sides were accounted for.
By 6 March, government forces were bombarding the Old City and Khaldiyeh for four straight days.
On 10 March, rebels infiltrated the Baba Amr area of Homs under the cover of night. The next morning, they launched an attack on government positions within the district. According to an opposition activist, Army checkpoints barely had time to realise that an attack was under way. Army troops sealed off several roads around Baba Amr and the Air force conducted air strikes on the district. The purpose of the rebel raid was reportedly to relieve pressure on the remaining rebel-held areas of the city that were still under siege by the military. At the same time, fighting was still ongoing in the rebel areas of Old Homs and Khaldiyeh, where the military was pressing its offensive.
By 12 March, heavy fighting was still ongoing in both Khaldiyeh, where government tanks were in action, and Baba Amr, which was being hit by Army rocket fire. It remained unclear how much of Baba Amr the rebels had captured or continued to hold after the latest fighting in the area. Civilians were forced to flee, as the army fired heavy machine guns into the district. The UN food agency said the renewed violence in Baba Amr has forced at least 3,000 families to leave their homes in the contested area.
On 25 March, Press TV reported that the Army had re-secured the Baba Amr district. Shortly after, the opposition group SOHR also reported that the military had taken control of large parts of the neighbourhood, with clashes continuing in the district's orchards. By the next day, 26 March, SOHR confirmed the military had recaptured the whole of Baba Amr. Meanwhile, fighting was reported in the Jobar section of the city.
Old Homs and Khalidiya separated
On 2 May, the Syrian army, backed by Hezbollah and Iranian fighters, pushed into and regained control of the strategic Wadi al-Sayeh neighborhood. The district is located in-between the rebel-held Old Homs and Khalidiya districts, thus with its capture government forces had cut the link between those two areas and they had become completely separated and surrounded.
June–July 2013 army offensive and capture of Khalidiya
On 28 June, the Army captured the town of Al-Qariatayn near Homs.
On 29 June, government troops launched an offensive on several rebel-held parts of Homs city, pounding the districts with air raids and mortar fire. "Military operations never stopped in Homs, but their pace increases according to priorities," an Army officer told AFP. The military bombardment started at nine in the morning and lasted for three hours before the Army deployed ground troops. Syrian state TV was quoted as saying the Army had "great success" in the battle for Homs, "killing many terrorists in the Khalidiya district". Fighting raged around the Khalid ibn al-Walid Mosque in Khalidiya, which had earlier caught fire. An activist in the Old City of Homs stated that the Army had “used rocket launchers for hours”. He also commented that all water, phone and power had been cut off or blocked, save satellite communications. “The only thing they haven’t blocked is the air we breathe” the activist reported.
On 30 June, the second day of the offensive, government forces were attacking the old covered market which links the Old City with the Khalidiya in an attempt to cut the link between the two areas. Fighting was also ongoing in the Bab Hud district of Old Homs.
On 3 July, an opposition activist stated that the fighting had become from building to building and the military was trying to take the rebel areas a block at a time. He said government forces were "cleaning" the areas of rebel fighters by firing mortar shells at buildings.
During the evening of 5 July, government forces managed for the first time to breach Khalidiya, capturing several buildings in the district after breaking the rebel's first line of defenses.
During the first two days of the offensive, according to SOHR, 32 government soldiers and militiamen had been killed, of which 24 died on the first day. Another eight government fighters were killed on 4 July. The number of rebels killed was unknown, but eight were reported killed on 5 July.
On 6 July, it was reported that the battle was swinging in favor of the Army, as rebels were running low on weapons. By this point, 60 to 70 percent of buildings in Khalidiya had been totally or partially destroyed or made uninhabitable.
On 8 July, government forces advanced into Khalidiya. According to the opposition, the Army captured 30 percent of the district, while military sources claimed that they had captured most of the neighborhood. Both sides confirmed government troops had captured areas around the Khalid ibn al-Walid Mosque. In a desperate attempt, rebels threatened they would blow themselves up along with government forces if the Army managed to enter the mosque complex.
On 10 July, government forces captured several areas in the Bab Hud district. Heavy artillery strikes continued on Khalidiya, Wadi al-Sayeh, Hamidiya, Bab Hud and Baba al-Turkman. Meanwhile, most civilians had fled Khalidiya, with only rebel fighters and their families remaining, according to an opposition activist.
By 11 July, rebel forces were preparing to retreat from the city, citing attrition of manpower and overwhelming military bombardment from government forces. Diplomats and opposition sources reported that the last opposition-held areas of Homs were set to fall within days to the Syrian army after the rebel forces decided to "sacrifice" the country's third-largest city to the government.
On 22 July, opposition activists claimed Army shelling had destroyed the historic mausoleum of a companion of the Prophet Mohammed in the Khalid ibn al-Walid Mosque.
On 24 July, it was reported that government bombardment of rebel areas had abruptly ceased "in recent days" in response to rebels firing Grad rockets at government-supporting civilian areas in other parts of the city the previous week. However, on 25 July, more artillery attacks on Khalidiya were reported.
On 26 July, government forces advanced further into Khalidiya and the district of Jouret el-Shayah. Soldiers had reached 50 meters from the Khalid ibn al-Walid Mosque. By the next day, soldiers had entered the mosque area from the eastern side and the Army captured the mosque itself. Government and Hezbollah forces had also taken control of 60 percent of Khalidiya. That night, state TV broadcast a report with footage from inside the heavily damaged mosque. The footage showed the tomb's dome knocked out and a portion of the mosque appeared to have been burned.
By 28 July, most of Khalidiya, estimated to be 70 percent, was under Army control, with fighting continuing on the northern and southern outskirts of the district. According to an Army officer, rebels were still controlling the northern part of Khalidiya. The military advances left only the Old Homs area under rebel control, where an estimated 1,000 rebel fighters remained. The next day, opposition activists confirmed 90 percent of the district had been captured by the Army, with scattered fighting continuing in the southern areas. That night, SOHR reported that the Army had taken full control of Khalidiya after capturing the Masakin al-Mu'alimin quarter.
During this time, the military blew up the last of the rebel smuggling tunnels going into Old Homs, leaving the area completely sealed off.
On 1 August, rebels launched rockets into the Wadi Dahab district of Homs, causing massive explosions at a weapons depot that killed at least 40 people and injured at least 120.
On 5 August, Syrian defence minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij met with SAA troops in the captured district of Khalidiya. The state run "SANA" news agency reported that the general conducted a tour of the area and "visited army units restoring security and stability in the neighbourhood".
Siege of Old Homs
On 21 September, the report "Homs misery 'like siege of Stalingrad'" by The Australian newspaper cited a doctor on location as giving the number remaining trapped in Homs as "3000 people and 1000 are injured, many women and children." The source further described the conditions of those trapped in the city where "most buildings in the Old City district, the last rebel-held enclave, had been flattened by artillery and the remaining inhabitants were living in basements." as follows: "We have to drink from polluted wells and wash in the sewage water," the doctor said. "We eat leaves and rotten rice. We have had no electricity for 500 days."
In late September, it was reported that the Army and rebels in some villages around Homs ceased hostilities, and FSA fighters were present in government-held areas without being molested. There was, however, no discussions on lifting the siege on the Old Homs area.
On 9 October, AFP reported that "rebel shelling of one of Syria's two main oil refineries" in Homs city had set the plant on fire. According to the report, "The Homs refinery had a pre-war capacity of 5.7 million tonnes per year but Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi said earlier this month that it was running at 10 percent of that. The other main plant at Banias on the Mediterranean coast -- heartland of the Assad regime -- is still refining at 80 percent of capacity, Halqi said."
On 12 October, Asharq Al-Awsat (a Saudi-linked pan-Arab newspaper) reported upon an exclusive interview with "FSA media and political coordinator Louay Miqdad" that "the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has announced that it is prepared to abide by a “temporary truce” in Homs and Rif Dimashq with Assad forces during Eid Al-Adha in order to facilitate humanitarian access to the two governorates. However, the FSA rejected a prolonged 9-month ceasefire with the Assad regime in order to allow the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to carry out its operations overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile."
In late November, the Army began an assault on the last remaining rebel-held pockets. On the evening of 8 January 2014, a group of 60 rebels from within Old Homs attempted to break the siege of the area. Government forces ambushed them near Khalidiya leaving at least 45 rebel fighters dead in fighting that lasted into the next morning. The remaining 18 fighters were missing. After the ambush, the Army launched an assault in an attempt to push into the Matahan area of Old Homs, where 150 rebels were putting up resistance, but their attack was beaten back. However, armoured Army reinforcements were sent from Damascus towards Homs.
On 7 February, a three-day truce was signed between the Syrian government and the rebels, under the auspices of the UN to allow the evacuation of civilians from the besieged neighborhoods of Homs. The first day of the operation, 83 people were evacuated from besieged areas of the Old City.
On 8 February, both sides are accused of having broken the truce but the operation continued.
On 9 February, 611 civilians out of the besieged neighborhoods: 210 women, 180 children, 91 men in age above 55, and 130 young men surrendered according to SOHR. The truce was extended of 72 hours.
On 17 February, Jeffrey White, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former senior American intelligence official, was quoted by the New York Times claiming that Assad government was conducting barrel-bomb attacks in Homs using Russian-supplied Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters.
By mid-March, 1,500 rebels and civilians, 100 of them wounded, were still trapped in Old Homs. They came to feel abandoned and faced only with the choices of abandoning Old Homs or making a last stand to the death. At this time, there was also talk of a truce with government forces, but without any results.
March–April 2014 army offensive and rebel counter-offensive
On 6 April, it was initially reported a car-bomb that the rebels were preparing exploded prematurely in Old Homs killing 29 rebel fighters and leaving dozens missing. Later, reports suggested either an ambush by government forces or a Grad missile that hit a rebel ammunition depot in the Jourat al-Shayyah area left 50–75 rebels dead, including dozens of senior officers. Among those killed was also the FSA provincial commander, Abdul Qadir al-Homsi. After the explosion, only 500–600 rebels were estimated to had remained in the Old Homs area out of 2,000 six months earlier, according to an opposition source.
On 10 April, the military launched a major offensive against the Old Homs area. On 14 April, pro-government NDF militia reinforcements arrived as government forces entered the Wadi al-Sayeh neighborhood, which lies between Jourat al-Shayyah and the Old City. By the next day, they had captured several buildings in the area. An opposition source reported the garages area between Jourat al-Shayyah and Qussour had been captured by government troops as they continued to advance. Meanwhile, rebel lines in Hamidiyah in Old Homs were tenuous as NDF forces were fighting in the outskirts of the area and advancing. Heavy artillery and mortar fire also hit the al-Waer neighborhood. According to a pro-government source, the Army had breached the rebel defense line in the Bab Houd district.
By 16 April, an estimated 300–1,000 rebel fighters had surrendered since March. Some of the remaining rebel fighters in Old Homs were getting ready for a fight to the death, preparing suicide belts for use in case the Army breaches their lines, as the opposition All4Syria news site predicted that the remaining rebel-held areas of the center of the city would fall within a week.
During this time, the Syrian Opposition Coalition issued an urgent appeal as fears of a new massacre grew.
On 18 April, a car-bomb exploded in a government-held district near a mosque killing 14 people, while Army troops captured a church in Old Homs and were continuing to advance.
On 19 April, rebels launched a counter-offensive, which started with a suicide car-bomb attack on an Army checkpoint at the entrance of the government-held Jeb al-Jandali neighbourhood. Right before the attack, which killed five soldiers, other soldiers at the checkpoint defected and abandoned their positions. By the next day, opposition forces captured several buildings in the Jeb al-Jandali area. Two of the buildings that were captured were the Al Jala’a swimming pool and a school which government forces attempted to recapture during the day.
By 22 April, government troops retook full control of the Jeb al-Jandali neighborhood. At this time, dozens of rebel fighters in Old Homs were trying to surrender, while others wanted to make a last stand and were sending suicide bombers against districts under government control, primarily the ones with an Alawite majority. At least five such bombings during the month killed more than 60 people. Fighters were also turning on comrades they suspected of a desire to desert, pushing them into battle. According to an opposition activist: "We expect Homs to fall. In the next few days, it could be under the regime's control."
On 29 April, a double rebel car-bomb attack in the Abbasiyeh neighbourhood of the government-held Zahra district left 168 people dead. Among those killed were 147 civilians, including 46 children, and 12 pro-government fighters. Nine fatalities were unidentified.
Rebel retreat from Homs
On 2 May, a ceasefire agreement had been reached, under which the remaining 1,000 rebel fighters would be allowed to leave Homs and head to the rebel-controlled countryside north of the city. The evacuation was scheduled for the next day. A matter of dispute remained in the agreement on whether the rebel-held al-Waer district, which is not connected to Old Homs, would be included in the deal.
On 3 May, talks on the rebel withdrawal from Homs entered their final phase. According to the provincial governor, the deal "will be applied first in the Old City, then in Waer. The goal is to reach a peaceful solution that brings back security and government institutions."
On 4 May, talks entered the implementation phase. Under the agreement, relief would be allowed into two Shiite pro-government towns in the northern province of Aleppo besieged by rebels. Also, Iranian and Lebanese prisoners held by the rebels would be released.
On 7 May, the evacuation of rebels from Homs started with two buses transporting the first group of fighters toward rebel-held areas of northern Homs province. In all, more than 960 rebels were evacuated during the day, with another 250 scheduled to be transported out the next day.
On 8 May, the final batch of 270 rebel fighters was expected to leave the city. However, rebels in Aleppo province blocked aid convoys that were supposed to bring food and medical supplies to two besieged government-held Shiite towns per the established agreement. Due to the failure of the rebels to uphold their side of the agreement, government forces blocked the remaining rebels in Old Homs from leaving. The convoys were not allowed to enter the towns the previous day as well by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.
During the afternoon of 9 May, the last of the rebels retreated from Homs after the aid convoys were allowed to enter the Shiite towns. Shortly after, hundreds of residents of Old Homs started to return to the area.
The U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon says he has received "grisly reports" that Syrian government forces are arbitrarily executing, imprisoning and torturing people in Homs after opposition fighters in Bab Amr retreated.
- "A major assault on Homs took place yesterday," Ban told the U.N. General Assembly in New York City on 2 March, 2012. "Civilian losses have clearly been heavy. We continue to received grisly reports of summary executions, arbitrary detentions and torture. This atrocious assault is all the more appalling for having been waged by the government itself, systematically attacking its own people". Activists said that government forces were rounding up people aged between 14-50 and executing them in batches.
- "The Assad regime is butchering its own people. The history of Homs is being written in the blood of its citizens."
- "The situation in Syria is absolutely appalling and it is vitally important that there is humanitarian access into Homs and elsewhere so that people can get the help they need."
- "But above all, what I think matters, is building the evidence and the picture so we hold this criminal regime to account and make sure that it is held to account for the crimes it is committing against its people and that one day, no matter how long it takes, there will be a day of reckoning for this dreadful regime."
Assad's government had "broken all the limits of barbarism". French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said. "And when I see the Syrian president paraded around this voting station in Damascus for this phony referendum, it makes you deeply indignant," he told RTL radio. Juppe said he felt "immensely frustrated" at difficulties in obtaining security guarantees to enable wounded civilians and Western journalists to be evacuated from Homs.
In April 2012, French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of seeking to "wipe Homs from the map", comparing his campaign to the Libyan government's attacks on the city of Benghazi. "Bashar al-Assad is lying in a shameful way, he wants to wipe Homs from the map like (former Libyan leader Muammar) Gaddafi wanted to wipe Benghazi from the map," Sarkozy said.
In popular culture
- Damascus-born filmmaker Talal Derki's Return to Homs - awarded World Cinema Grand Jury Prize:Documentary, Sundance Film Festival.
- The siege is documented in the Syrian documentary film Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait, released in Cannes (out of competition) on 15 May 2014.
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