One day, he says, a child walked past, gripping a candy bar. Another time it was a mother holding her child’s hand. When civilians walk past, he says he does not shoot, because they remind him of his old life. He likes to gaze beyond the checkpoints set up by the Assad regime; they separate him from his family and old neighbors, living in the non-besieged areas of Homs.
A different kind of life exists on the other side of that barrier, a more normal life, than in this city’s 14 besieged neighborhoods. From his vantage point, the fighter says he can see cars and traffic, fathers returning home with grocery bags of fruits and vegetables and little girls with pink bows in their hair carrying school bags. He remembers his late brother, Abu Khaled, and his grocery store. The little girl passing by looks like his neighbor’s daughter, and the boy might be the same age as the fighter’s son, who he has not seen in months.
Inside besieged Homs, residents say they are in a perpetual state of longing for parents, children and spouses living on the other side of the barricades that separate the rebel-controlled areas of the city from those patrolled by government forces. The rebel fighters are no different from the civilians. When asked, the fighter says he misses the smell of his mother’s cooking and being able to share a meal with his family. The Internet is the only method of communication between fighters and their families in other areas of the city.
“God willing this will be over soon. We have to be more patient,” he says.
The Internet as a Lifeline
A year and a half ago, 14 Homs neighborhoods came under a siege that has no end in sight. Humanitarian aid, journalists and rebels were all cut off. The Internet is a lifeline; without it, residents of the besieged neighborhoods would have been cut off from the world.
Samer, a young resident of one of these neighborhoods, waits for the clock to strike 8:30 p.m., when one of the local media offices will open its doors for average citizens to use the Internet to get in touch with their families.
“Every night, my whole family waits for me to log onto Skype. My sister, brother, mother and father, and sometimes even my grandmother and aunts gather for the occasion. Two hours fly by as I tell them about life under siege,” he says.
“Sometimes, I cannot get to the media center to talk to them because of the dangers near the front lines. On those days, I ask one of my friends to give them an update so that my absence doesn’t worry them.”
A common sight in besieged Homs is that of young men inside destroyed buildings with their cell phones, trying to get a signal to call elsewhere in the city. There are known spots where one can get service from farther-off cell towers, as those providing coverage to the besieged areas are not functioning.
The instant messenger WhatsApp, along with Facebook and talk service Viber, are the most commonly used applications. Family members on the other end are sometimes as little as 10 feet away from the barricade. Residents here say social media platforms help, but they can’t replace a father kissing his child on the forehead, a young man kissing his mother’s hand or a grandfather holding his grandchildren.
This article was translated from Arabic by Naziha Baassiri.