This Is The Besieged Syrian City Of Homs Where Catastrophe Is Looming

After 600 days under siege, the Syrian army is moving in to retake the last rebel-held areas of Homs. Officials warn the results could be catastrophic.

This is the city of Homs. In spring 2011, Homs was a center of Syria's nascent peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad. Now, three years later, Syria's uprising has shifted into a violent civil war — and Homs is a humanitarian disaster.

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For more than 600 days, Assad's army has laid siege to rebel-held areas, shelling neighborhoods and cutting off residents from food, medical care, electricity, and water. Then, on April 15, the Syrian army launched an assault to retake the besieged areas.

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Syrian activists released videos allegedly of the government shelling besieged neighborhoods of Homs.

On April 17, U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned that Homs had again become a "theater of death and destruction." He called on the U.N. to act on a February resolution demanding the regime and rebels provide immediate aid in all of Syria.

Stringer / Reuters

Here, a man in Homs bends his head to avoid snipers from pro-government fighters on March 9. Russia and China have repeatedly blocked U.N. resolutions condemning the Syrian government's violence; the February resolution marked the first time that China and Russia have agreed to a resolution that demanded access for humanitarian aid and threatened repercussions for noncompliance.

The Syrian National Coalition also warned that those still in rebel held areas could face a massacre if Assad retook the city. The U.N. Security Council met to discuss the situation on April 18 — but did not make any further statements.

Yazan Homsy / Reuters

Disagreements with Russia reportedly overshadowed the UNSC's discussion of Syria. After the latest UNSC meeting, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power released a statement that criticized Assad's failure to comply with the resolution, demanded humanitarian access to the residents of Homs, and urged all parties to return to the negotiating table.

The same day, Brahimi reported that talks between the Syrian Army and Homs rebels had failed. As part of a temporary truce, the U.N. in February evacuated some 1,400 people from the besieged areas; around 1,300, reportedly mostly fighters, remained.

Bassel Tawil/BASSEL TAWIL/AFP/File

Here, rebels help to unload food aid during a U.N.-led humanitarian operation on Feb. 12. The rebel groups in Homs are largely from local brigades. A new report by Foreign Policy found that Assad has been manipulating the U.N. World Food Program to attract starving Syrians out of rebel areas. Some Homs residents who fled from rebel to government-held areas of Homs are currently facing detention.

Friday marks three years since Syrian forces opened fire on a nonviolent sit-in in New Clock Square, Homs. In commemoration, this year Syrian activists started #EyeOnHoms to demand an end to the violence in Homs.

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There is no verified death toll for the 2011 New Clock Square killings. Anti-government protestors alleged tens died. The event marked an escalation in regime violence — and Syrian demands for Assad to go.

Three years of battles and bombings have devastated Homs, like the historic Khalid ibn al Walid Mosque pictured here before the unrest, and killed, wounded, and displaced much of Homs pre-war population of 2 million.

Flickr: zz77

Award-winning British journalist Marie Colvin was one of the thousands killed from government shellings of besieged Homs. She was killed in the Baba Amar neighborhood in February 2012.

"I know hashtags don't save lives," a Syrian activist who tweets at @THE_47th told BuzzFeed regarding #EyeOnHoms. "But if people don't know they won't even begin to take action." The activist added, "That's our struggle, how do we make this relevant?"

Yazan Homsy / Reuters

"It's not right to make people go through this," the activist added. "If peoples' mothers and sons and daughters who died were blond and blue-eyed? Would that make it relevant?"

This month Assad announced that he will run in presidential elections to be held later this year. Assad's latest assault on Homs follows his army's successes in retaking strategic towns and cities along Lebanon's border, at great expense to the rebels.

AP Photo/SANA, File

This week, Assad's army continued its deadly barrel bombings of Aleppo, amid reports it used chlorine bombs near Damascus. In the east, Islamist rebels, including extremists, maintain significant territory, while Western-backed rebels are lagging.

Raja Abdulrahim/Los Angeles Times / MCT

Children in Aleppo, Syria, gather at their father's grave on April 2.

Meanwhile, the prospect for a negotiated peace in Homs — and Syria — remains illusive as the humanitarian crisis worsens. At least 150,000 have died in the unrest and another 9 million have been displaced inside and outside Syria.

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Bassel Tawil/AFP/File

Civilians wait to be evacuated by U.N. staff from the besieged district of Homs on Feb. 9.

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Yazan Homsy / Reuters

A damaged house in the besieged area of Homs on Feb. 24.

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A damaged church in the besieged part of Homs on March 8.

Sana / Reuters

Smoke rises from the al-Zarah village in the Homs countryside, after Assad's soldiers took control of it from rebel fighters on March 8.

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Closed shops on an empty street in al-Dablan, a government-controlled area of Homs on March 13.

Joseph Eid/AFP

A poster of President Bashar al-Assad in the government-controlled Dawwar al-Nuzha area of Homs on March 13.

JOSEPH EID/AFP / Getty Images

A man walks through the once rebel-held neighborhood of Baba Amro in in Homs March 15.

JOSEPH EID/AFP / Getty Images

A Syrian girl pets her cat in Baba Amro, Homs, on March 15.

Khaled Al-Hariri / Reuters

Damage inside the the Crac des Chevaliers fortress in the Homs countryside, after Assad soldiers took control of it from rebel fighters on March 21.


Syrian residents carry a wounded woman from the site of two car bombings on April 9 that killed around 25 people in a neighborhood in Homs mostly inhabited by President Bashar Assad's minority Alawite sect.

Flickr: beshro / Via Yazan Homsy / Reuters

Homs' historic Khalid ibn al Walid Mosque, built in the 11th century, before and after the unrest.

CORRECTION: The original article misrepresented @The_47ths relation to #EyeOnHoms. The Twitter user did not start the hashtag.