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UN observers in the heart of Syria's rebellion

In an old wedding hall in Homs's rebel district of Khaldiyeh, the head of the UN observers in Syria, General Robert Mood, offered his condolences to the rebel commander for his comrades killed since the violence began.

The bright pastoral decorations in the basement room, which until the outbreak of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad's regime hosted weddings and banquets, contrasted sharply with the serious tone of the meeting.

It is the UN general's first meeting with Abu Quteiba in the rebel stronghold of Syria's battered central city, where he had come to discuss his mission.

Although he was a defector, the local head of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) wore his former uniform, as do his fellow officers seated around the table.

Outside, the crackle of automatic weapons mixed with the thud of mortars. Minutes later, gunmen stopped their van outside and set down the body of a soldier wrapped in a white shroud.

He belonged to the Al-Farouk Brigade, one of the most formidable fighting units of the rebellion. Its leader, Abdel Razzak Tlass, carried his fallen comrade to the Khaled Ibn Walid mosque. Tlass said he was killed by an army sniper.

The bearded former officer, dressed in a tracksuit, his mustache shaved, performed his ablutions before entering the black and white stone building to recite the prayer of the dead.

"The army violates the ceasefire while the FSA complies," he said. "Every day there are deaths and injuries because of army snipers."

"The attacks usually occur at night after the UN observers return to their hotel," Tlass continued. "We need the international community to pressure the regime to improve the situation."

Each night, the city was kept awake by the sound of gunfire. Clock Tower Square, once the bustling heart of Homs, was now the demarcation line, where the rebels and army traded accusations of renewed violence.

But it was likely that both are right. On either side, buildings with broken windows were pockmarked by bullets and disfigured from shelling.

In the adjoining Hamadiyeh district, young men with Kalashnikov rifles slung over their shoulders stand guard at crossroads. On top of sandbag barriers, they had planted the banner of the opposition, the Syrian flag of 1946, when the country gained independence from France.

This Christian quarter, taken two months ago by the rebels, was now virtually deserted.

"I joined to defend our homes, our wives, our children. One of my brothers and two of my cousins were killed and several members of my family are in prison," said Abu Mohammad, 31, who was a goldsmith before joining the FSA 14 months ago.

The area was surrounded by the Syrian Army, and sometimes only a single street separated the opposing sides.

"Our protest began peacefully but the regime responded with arms. The regime has bombed our homes and torn families apart. In the end we took up arms to defend ourselves," said Wadai, an 18-year-old rebel.

"I'm not afraid of death. We will win the war. We are fighting for our freedom and rights," he exclaimed.

At the Syrian Orthodox Church of Notre Dame, a few Christians had come to see the damage to their church caused by the fighting.

One of them, Abdel Karim, was showing the impact of the shelling when a rebel interrupts him.

"Tell the journalists who fired those shots. Tell them it was the forces of Bashar."

"I don't know where the shots came from," answered the man in his fifties.

"Why are you afraid to say it was Bashar who bombed the church?" 24-year-old Ghanem demanded.

"I'm not afraid. I don't know who shot at our church," Abdel Karim retorted.

"Go back coward. Go back to Fayrouzeh," Ghanem said, referring to a Christian village on the outskirts of town. The Christian left in silence.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon

For the latest developments on Syria, follow @NOW_Syria on Twitter or click here.

  • Hep

    Most of the outside world is looking at Syria through night goggle. It is called media brainwashing and cyber warfare. The Arab League and the International observers do not see what the world outside Syria see. See: You Tube: - 'CIA, MI6 and Mossad Together against Syria'

    May 9, 2012