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Living under fire in Homs, Syria

Residents of the besieged neighborhood of Khadeiye run through the streets to avoid snipers.  Sheets are hung and moved as the snipers move to try and block their view .
One of the members of the Free Army of Syria, and formerly a soldier in the Syrian Army, looks around a corner after hearing shots fired nearby in Khadeiya.  The collection of volunteers guard their neighborhood from inside houses as the Syrian Army fires at them from across the streets and high locations.
A well known wedding singer, whispers the words of a revolutionary song into the ears of children so they can sing them.
Water, and electricity have been cut since Khadeiya was taken by the opposition.  Now electricity is snuck in on clandestine power lines and water is distributed from old wells.
A member of the Free Syrian Army approaches the border of Khadeiya where the Syrian Army is firing on them.  Scattered machine gun fire can be heard coming from both sides but the real fear comes with the sound of artillery and RPGs.
Families have made a refugee camp out of an orphanage in Homs.  The only requirement is that a member of the family must have died or be in jail.  This room houses three families from beside Baba Amr, Homs.  After the fled the violence their houses were completely ransacked, allegedly by pro-government thugs.
In a house on the border of Baba Amr, Homs bullet holes riddle the walls and furniture.  Blocks of the city were abandoned and most shops were closed.
A small party is held in the center of Khadeiya where men and their children  come mainly to sing anti-government songs and dance.
One of the soldiers of the Syrian Free Army is brought into a makeshift hospital after he was hurt in an explosion.  The small clinic is the only one left after 3 other hospitals and clinics were shelled.
One of the officers of the Free Syrian Army sits with his family in their home in Khadeiya.  He is unusual for keeping his family in the middle of the bullet riddled neighborhood.  But he is too well know as a member of the opposition and as he says
Many of the remaining people and cars of Kahdeiya have been shot multiple times.    This soldier showed me 3 bullet holes.  One doctor showed me the 9 times he has been wounded while retrieving patients in their makeshift ambulance.
The main square of Khadeiya is pitted with holes from mortars and explosives.  At one time this square was used for organizing anti-government protests where many were originally killed.
A small party is held in the center of Khadeiya where men and their children  come mainly to sing anti-government songs and dance.
One of the residents of Khadeiya, Homs was shot in the legs by a sniper after leaving the evening protest.   After being patched up in the clinic he returned to the protest to tell his friends he is ok.
Damascus, Syria

Draft.

This report does not give an accurate description of all Syria’s current complexity. It is a look at one opposition neighborhood for one day.

After a year of intense fighting and low level suppression many parts of Khaldeya have bullet holes, the cars, the walls, the water tanks, the people. This suburb of Homs has been emptied of families and filled with bullet holes. The doctor that runs out to pick up wounded has 9 bullet holes. Sheets are hung in the street to block the view of snipers are like swiss cheese.

I was given one of the rare 7 day visas to enter Syria as a journalist. I wasn’t the best journalist to be sent, my expertise is Egypt, my Arabic language is Egyptian. But thanks to a good fixer and some digging we were able to travel around Homs relatively freely.

Getting into Khaldeya required a local guide and some quick driving down a road with a history of snipers. The bullet holes in other cars confirmed that sometimes they were shot. While in the neighborhood shots ring out at irregular intervals

The rebels are very aware of the Syrian government’s storyline that they are gangs of terrorists and were more than willing to show us around. Often when I start talking with a soldier he will pull out his army ID and go into the story of how he escaped.

Most of the soldiers claim that their weapons came from defecting soldiers, though they have had to buy ammunition from anywhere they can.

There was one former Syrian Army officer who told of how his brother was walking home from the first protest in Khaldeya when a sniper shot him through the stomach. At that moment he decided to defect and join the rebels. Now he is too well known so he stays with his family, unwilling to send them away. “I would rather have them die here with me than away from me” he says.

To defend their neighborhood the volunteers have smashed holes through the walls of the homes. A maze of paths are opened and closed as they move around the inside. As I move with them they aren’t so afraid of bullets as of the RPGs.

In one of the few houses with electricty a few volunteers write songs for the evening’s protest. It’s an almost daily event of a few men and children gathering in a central location. A couple of famous wedding singers lead the festivities.

One of the residents left the party early, half an hour later he was driven back in an ambulance, with fresh bandages. A sniper had shot him through the legs on his way home.

The rebellion in Syria is one of the most complex of the revolutions of the Arab spring. It isn’t a peacefull protest in a square, or violent fight from east to west, or easily described along majority, minority sectarian lines. It has many fronts, many divided families, is partially peaceful, partially violent, and has no clear majority of people or power. It also has many neighbors that want to influence the outcome.

This complexity is undercovered partially because there were relatively few foreign journalists based in Syria to start with and now it is excedingly hard for journalists to get in for long term coverage.