If you’ve seen the documentary Return to Homs, a chronicle of life and battle in the Syrian city, you’ll have an easy time visualizing the violent showdown that’s taking place as you read this article. Fighters holding out in rebel-held areas of Homs, mixed with desperate civilians who’ve stayed behind in their homes, have been under heavy bombardment as Syrian government troops moved in to take back the area. U.N. Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Homs has become “a theater of death and destruction,” while the opposition Syrian National Council warned of “a massacre in the making.” Syrian state television said government forces “have achieved key successes” in the battle.
“The tunnels which allowed in supplies have been destroyed by the regime with vacuum bombs and aerial bombardments,” said one rebel fighter, quoted in an opposition statement. He also described the grim success of an apparent regime strategy of blockading food, starving people in the rebel-held area. “We don’t have any leaves left on the trees. We’ve eaten them all,” he said.
Outside of Homs, conditions are just as desperate. In another city under siege, a teenage Syrian girl wrote us this diary entry, the first in a series of memoirs of her life in a war.
“Every day, we open our eyes to our bleak reality: to the mortar shells that bring fear, death, disease and destruction. It has robbed us of our loved ones, destroyed our special places, hurt our close friends. Take my neighbor’s daughter. At just seven years old, she has lost the ability to speak after a rocket landed close to our street,” she wrote.
“One can never get used to sleeping on an empty stomach. We try to entertain ourselves to forget our hunger, but there is no power and it is difficult to be without electricity after our lives once depended on it. I feel as if I’m living in the Stone Age.”
On Wednesday reports surfaced of yet another chemical attack in the suburbs of Damascus; the opposition accused the regime of responsibility. State media, in return, have pinned a string of small-scale chemical attacks on rebel fighters, framing them as efforts to evoke sympathy and international action.
Amid the claims and counter-claims, the Syrian government’s commitment to destroy its chemical weapons stash is faltering. President Bashar al-Assad is at risk of missing an April 27 deadline to transfer chemicals to international custody, the Wall Street Journal reports. “Both the frequency and volumes of deliveries have to increase significantly,” said Ahmet Uzumcu, the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The chemical weapons are being delivered to the port of Latakia, where they’ll be shipped out for destruction.
If all goes as planned, by the time the last of Assad’s declared stockpile is removed from the country, he’ll be fully immersed in Syria’s presidential election – running for another seven-year term in office. Candidates for president can register as of Monday, the AFP reports; it is the first time there will be challengers to Assad, though new election rules bar prominent opposition leaders living abroad from running. The Christian Science Monitor gave a vivid image of Syria’s campaign cycle, palpably under way.
“Everywhere you look in central Damascus, you see President Bashar al-Assad’s face: thoughtful on the T-shirt of a soldier, smiling on a wall, hidden behind sunglasses in a traffic circle,” writes Kristin Solberg in Damascus. “A casual observer might think he is the only candidate in the upcoming presidential election, as he has always been – until this year.”
Of course, he is the candidate with the biggest public platform – one that will be formidable for other candidates to counter. Assad spoke at Damascus University this week, saying the conflict had reached a “turning point,” framing it as “a war on terror.”