Doha Hassan

Death "under international supervision"

NOW explores the wave of displacements from the besieged cities

Evacuating Homs
Bustan al-Qasr crossing

“I swear to God I left unwillingly,” said an elderly man, one of the first to arrive in Homs’ Al-Waar neighborhood, amid a crowd of local residents chanting slogans. The evacuation of civilians from besieged areas in Homs per an agreement reached at the Geneva II conference has drawn much media attention.


Aleppo’s evacuations, meanwhile, have not been discussed to the same degree. But though the course of events in Homs and Aleppo has diverged in theory, the two areas are similar in terms of “migration” – each has been subject to population redistributions initiated by the Syrian regime.




As of last week, besieged areas in Homs were emptied of their elderly, women, and children, who were taken to another besieged area under international supervision. This same area was being intermittently shelled in blatant violation of the truce agreement.


83 civilians – women, children below 15 years of age, and seniors above 55 – are leaving per the four-day truce, during which aid is being brought in while residents are evacuated. Some went to the “opposition-controlled” Al-Waar area, while others “were taken by the regime to its own areas,” according to one activist.


The UN presence in Homs has not prevented the regime and its fighters from opening fire at the people crossing over from the besieged area onto the Waar road. One elderly man, for instance, was hit in the abdomen and taken to the hospital. The regime also targeted a humanitarian aid convoy, killing two of its passengers.


Many were surprised by the agreement, under which people were transferred from one besieged area to another that has been under siege for about 190 days. “I do not know how the United Nations agreed to bringing civilians out from one siege to another,” said Hassan Abu al-Zein, a spokesman for the Revolution Youth Coalition in Homs. “Residents of pro-regime neighborhoods are being gathered today in order to prevent civilians from going out and deliver aid to them. The regime also violated the truce and bombed the besieged neighborhoods using mortars right under the eyes of UN delegates.”




Although Aleppo residents have already been subject to forced migrations for well over one year, the pace has intensified this week. “The displacement of Muharrar residents started when the regime targeted Al-Maysar and Masaken Hanano using explosive barrels,” said media activist Wael Adel. “The displacement intensified over the past few days following rumors that the regime will totally destroy Aleppo once the [Bustan al-Qasr] crossing is closed. Blood spots are still visible on my pants from when a regime sniper hit one displaced man in the chest while three others were critically wounded. We took them to a field hospital.”


22-year-old photographer and activist Hussam Qattan visits the Bustan al-Qasr crossing every day to take pictures of this journey. “I heard bullets whizzing and I saw people running in all directions,” he told NOW. “A while later, I saw a young child standing by the side of the road and crying as his father lay flat on the ground. He had been hit by a bullet and no one could get close to him. He was left to bleed for about half an hour before anyone could help him: anyone who drew near was targeted by the sniper.”


The crossing is a daily journey for more than 4,000 civilian tradesmen, workers, students, and civil servants. Each time, one or two people are killed by snipers positioned atop the minaret of the main mosque overlooking Bustan al-Qasr.


No refuge


For Aleppo and Homs residents who manage to leave unharmed, many can no longer find refuge outside Syria. Last week, the Salama border crossing along the Turkish-Syrian border in Kalas became extremely crowded after its closure by Turkish authorities. The closure followed the influx of 700 new families into the refugee camp on the other side, which could no longer take in any more refugees. One activist named Firas told NOW, “This is the most important [wave of] displacement since the start of the revolution. The residents of the liberated eastern part of Aleppo were forced to flee their areas, which are targeted by the regime’s explosive barrels.”


In July 2012, the Northern Storm Brigade and other brigades liberated the Bab al-Salama crossing before losing control over it to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). However, this change of hands was short-lived, as the Liwa al-Tawhid Brigade, along with remnants of Northern Storm, defeated ISIS and retook control of the crossing.


But as the revolution continues into its third year against a backdrop of the Geneva II conference, the choice for many residents of Homs and Aleppo has been reduced to two options: death by explosive barrels, shelling, starvation, and disease, or heading to areas controlled by the regime, where arrest, torture, and killing are all too common.


This article has been translated from the original Arabic.

A farewell between loved ones during the last evacuation. (Image via Facebook)

"The UN presence in Homs did not prevent the regime and its thugs militiamen from opening fire at the people crossing over from the besieged area onto the Waar road."