Syria: Homs Scarred By Guerrilla Warfare

Tim Marshall, Foreign Affairs Editor, in Homs
Syria: Homs Scarred By Guerrilla Warfare

With a Syrian fighter jet overhead, bombing rebel positions, we made our way through the wrecked streets of the Bab Sbaa district of Homs and to the front lines.

Bab Sbaa borders the Old City and Khaldia districts. The Syrian Army unit we were with said they believed there are 4,000 opposition fighters in these districts, many of them foreign jihadists, and that they have them surrounded. We could not verify the claims.

What was clear, from experience of previous visits to the city, is that the rebels have lost ground in Homs.

We saw no evidence they hold any other districts. When we went to the Bab Amr area, the building formerly used as the Free Syrian Army headquarters had a large poster of President Bashar al Assad on its front.

On the front line we crossed from street to street using the holes rebels had punched through houses when they first arrived in force, but now being used by the army.

At one point we filmed through a sniper hole at opposition positions just 100 yards away.

The air force dropped three bombs while we were in Homs, but it is the brutal low-tech urban guerrilla war fought at street level that has caused most of the extensive damage to large areas of the city.

We came across a remarkable contraption - an industrial sized catapult, left behind during a rebel retreat, which had been used to launch homemade bombs towards army positions. Had it not been partially made from what looked like car parts, it could have been from the times of the Crusades.

There appears to have been a change in the government's tactics. They may have abandoned large swathes of countryside containing small towns, and are concentrating on holding the big cities, notably, Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Hama, and coastal towns such as Tartus and Latakia.

As a long-term strategy for victory it leaves a lot to be desired, especially as the opposition fighters are already using its territory to regroup, resupply, train, and formulate their own long-term plan.

However, holding the urban areas means the government does not lose, and, at the moment, that seems the best they can hope for.

Syria's agony still looks set to be a tragedy played out over many more months.

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