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In Homs, Snipers Take Aim from the ‘Tower of Death’

Residents in the 14 besieged neighborhoods of this city are always careful not to turn on their flashlights when they walk at night. They run fast through the streets, avoiding sniper fire by following known safe routes through tunnels and trenches.

Written by Yazan Homsy & R.R. / Homs Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

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The 29-story Gardenia building, dubbed the “the tower of death” by Homs residents, casts a shadow of death over Syria’s third largest city. One hundred twelve meters (122 yards) high, it overlooks most of Homs from its location in the al-Waer neighborhood.

Sprawled over 7,000 meters, Gardenia’s three concrete blocks were used as a hotel, apartment complex and reception halls prior to the revolution. Now, the former luxury complex serves as government army barracks, stocked with rocket launchers, anti-aircraft weapons and snipers. It’s guarded by hundreds of soldiers and shabiha, the pro-regime gunmen.

In a Facebook post, Mohammad Hamid, a contractor of the Gardenia project and the executive engineer of the Gardenia complex’s al-Funduq Tower, built by the Bin Laden Group, shared his thoughts on the Gardenia’s new role.

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“It was my dream to take part in building the tallest tower in Syria, especially in my beloved city of Homs, but the ‘tower of death’ has killed more of my fellow countrymen than the chemical weapons massacre in Ghouta in Damascus,” he wrote. “That is why I hope that the tower would be a target of a U.S. strike, but only after it’s been evacuated to limit the damage done.”

The Gardenia Tower, he said, “It is made up of three blocks: the hotel, the residential block, and the halls block, which includes a wedding ballroom and restaurants. All three blocks share the cellars, which are as large as the project itself … the cost of the concrete alone was $32 million.”

The enormous project was meant to benefit Homs residents and the local economy; instead, it has been repurposed to kill. Just the sight of the tower awakens fear in people’s hearts. A common refrain for cause of death is now, “a sniper bullet from Gardenia Tower.”

Killed Traversing Districts

According to statistics compiled by local activists and medical staff, 30 percent of the people killed or wounded in the besieged areas died on the journey from one neighborhood to the other.

Only a few hundred meters separate the areas held by the rebels here from those controlled by government forces. Average residents are easy targets for Assad’s snipers, who are stationed atop towers and tall buildings.

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Taller building and residential towers, like the Gardenia, are located in the areas under government control, giving snipers a visual advantage.

To reduce the risk of getting shot while on the move, civilians invent new ways to stay out of the snipers’ line of vision: thick fabrics are hung on clotheslines, and sand bags and the rubble from bombarded buildings is used. Tunnels have been dug to protect against sniper shots. They are the safest routes of travel, but, shoveled manually, present a physical challenge.

Rockets and missiles also pose a threat to those on the streets. They are inaccurate compared to sniper guns but can still be used to target passersby. Another threat are the B10 rockets that are fired near-horizontal.

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