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In Homs, Rebels and Civilians Forge New Bonds

In the rebel-held districts of Homs, bombardments and isolation reinforce the bond between civilian communities and Free Syrian Army battalions.

Written by Yazan Homsy / Homs and Karen Leigh Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

A 15-month-long siege by the regime makes it necessary for the two to share duties collecting food, water, power and shelter: what people on the ground here need to create a sense of security and normalcy.

Civilians in the hard-hit areas of al-Korabis, al-Qasour, Jouret al-Shiyeh, old Homs and the souks have set up public kitchens and organized efforts to help remove rubble from the streets. Having suffered from food shortages, they now grow their own vegetables. Courtyards and rooftops have been turned into gardens of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, lettuce, cabbage and leafy greens. Whatever grows is periodically distributed to local families in need of nutritious food.

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They have also established an aid office to ensure that families are getting enough food. Manual ovens have been built and are used to make bread.

Abu Mahmoud al-Tadmuri is an elderly man from Palmyra who lives in Homs and took part in the early stages of the revolution. He dedicates his time to growing vegetables and distributing them to local families and injured rebel fighters. “I would rather give a tomato to a family than keep it for myself. You and I can live without it, but not a family, a child, a wounded person,” he says.

Some fighters who are far from their own children practice their parenting skills with local kids. Some are orphans whose fathers were killed on the front lines, and so taking care of them becomes the duty of the community. When houses are shelled, the first question asked is if there are any dead children.

A Fusion of Battalions and Civilians

In Homs, the lines between fighter and civilian are blurred. Most families now have a son, a brother, or a cousin who has joined an FSA battalion. Most of those who have taken up arms are civilians who say they decided to defend their families and livelihoods against the looting, killing and kidnapping they have witnessed. It is not uncommon to see a fighter who is also a baker, technician or barber.

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Men who are professional soldiers who defected from the army also take part in everyday life of the city. They help fix water pipes and pumps, grow vegetables, bury martyrs, cut hair and mend clothes. Those who are unable to take up arms work overtime to help prepare meals, repair generators and remove rubble after every bombardment.

With public works decimated, the burden of providing food, water and power for families here falls to civilians themselves and even various brigades. Residents here say some fighters fetch drinking water for families from the wells, and families are given priority if a store of canned food is discovered in an abandoned building. When the Syrian Arab Red Crescent delivered 250 food rations to the families and wounded, they say fighters secured the route.

Abu Abdo, a fighter at one of the fronts, divides his time between manning his post and milling wheat. “What can we do? We have to do everything manually,” he says. “There are people who need to be fed, and you must carry your own weight.”

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