Local Coordination Committees in Syria
A report about the latest events in the resistant Homs
A point of order
The city of Homs in all its neighborhoods still suffers from a suffocating siege and heavy continuous security campaigns that are resulting with tens of casualties and wounded every day. This is why it deserves to be declared as a crisis zone.
The city is still under 6 months of a military and security invasion where horrifying crimes and abuses have been committed, including random shelling for homes and neighborhoods, sniping, killing under torture, and abusing dead bodies.
In the same time, the city continued to peacefully demonstrate in all neighborhoods, protected by the Free Syrian Army which has recently started to peacefully protected demonstrators, using the light weapons they possess, by standing up to security forces and the regime’s army and Shabiha (thugs) when they confronted demonstrators and invaded neighborhoods and towns.
The regime has relentlessly tried to ignite sectarian feuds between the city’s neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are inhibited by Syrians from all sects and religions.
Homs is located in the center of Syria, and is a transportation node that connects many provinces and areas in Syria. It is also deeply connected with all other Syrian cities: socially, economically, and culturally.
The urban structure of the city has expanded in the last decades after migration from the countryside of Homs to the city. This connected its urban core with nearby suburbs and towns, creating one urban body that extends over a large piece of land.
Alongside its growing economical, cultural and human position, Homs reflects the Syrian human composition in all its sects, religions, ethnicities and intellectual trends.
Homs is Syria in a smaller scale; a visitor to any street or alley can identify dialects, facial features and looks from all over Syria. Homs is the amalgamation of the national Syria identity combined: urban, country, and Bedouin.
Muslims in Homs are Sunni, Alowite, Shiaa, Ismaelians and Drouze. Christian in Homs are Orthodox and Catholics. The city also has Kurds, Armenians, Sarkissians and Turkmans.
Since the beginning of the revolution, the regime played its usual card in turning a political conflict into a social divide, so they targeted the human structure of Homs as a city and as a model.
Homs was their first target to neutralize the revolution and turn it into a civil fraction among the people who lived in adjacent streets and neighborhoods.
Activist Omar Idlibi see that “the efforts of the regime to start a sectarian fight in Homs started in March 25th when they sent off a pro-regime crowd chanting sectarian slogans and beating a demonstration that took off on that Friday (Friday of Dignity).
These acts escalated by using Shabiha from loyalist neighborhoods with an Alawite majority to attack the demonstrating neighborhoods, and by Security Forces’ resort to kidnapping, killing, and delivering the kidnapped to the Shabiha to kill and abuse them.”
If there were any sectarian incidents in Homs in the previous periods, they were isolated individual incidents that were contained by the people most of the times.
The last month witnessed a considerable increase in those incidents, noticeable mainly in acts of kidnapping and some reverse kidnapping. Those acts were mainly against taxi and bus drivers, conducted by security forces and Shabiha, or by security patrols and checkpoint that would in turn deliver them to thugs. These acts were mainly to trade for others already kidnapped, or for a ransom.
“Kidnapping based on ID cards on security checkpoints became a familiar act”, says an activist in Homs. He continues: “we are kidnapped in front of security air force division and national security agents, in many cases it is them who would kidnap and deliver the person to the Shabiha”.
What validates the theory of security forces being involved in acts of kidnapping is that delivering the kidnapped person after successful negotiation is done through security agents and even sometimes in security divisions, as reported by eyewitnesses.
“This has become an important source of income for them to finance their Shabiha and support the lack of funds they are suffering from. Sometimes the ransom they ask for is too high”, one of the activists says.
Most of those thugs are known by name and have “their armed groups” that are responsible for getting the job done. Among them are: Shehadeh Kamel Mayhoub, Wael Mulhem and Firas Hadbeh. They are parliament members.
In many other cases, if there was no intention to trade them for other kidnapped or for a ransom, the kidnapped are taken to mainly-loyalist neighborhoods like Alzahraa and Alnizha, where they are beaten and humiliated publically before they are released.
These acts, repeated in other cities like Banyas, aim at creating sectarian tension between different neighborhoods.
In other cases, these acts had tragic results were bodies of the kidnapped were found thrown away with signs of torture and abuse by the hands of security forces and Shabiha.
There are no exact, or approximate, numbers for the kidnapped from both sides, most of them are not declared rather dealt with through intermediates.
What’s interesting to observes is that contradicting tales are not limited to the day of the incident, they continue until the moment of writing this report, where the same story was different from one person to another in the same neighborhood, or even between different neighborhoods.
This proves that the war of rumors and attempts to start sectarian tension were the main goal for what happened, and not a result for it.
The points we could match between all different tales are:
- Some stories were reported to have happened in loyalist and demonstrating neighborhoods in similar ways.
This can be shown by the story of the 34 killed people. They were reported in the exact same details in both loyalist and demonstrating neighborhoods, which means that what’s happened that day was mostly to cause fear and turn neighborhoods against each other.
- Many of the details that circulated that day on facebook pages and websites were proven completely untrue, and were mostly feeding sectarian tension and fueling the feud between different neighborhoods (like nailing loyalists to a cross on the door of a mosque, or dancing on the bodies of demonstrators).
- Until this moment, there are no exact numbers for casualties from both sides, and no agreement on the stories about the kidnapping dates of those who were killed, and where they were killed.
- Shelling one of the mosques in the migrants’ neighborhoods and setting many parts of it on fire by the armed groups of the PM Wael Mulhem. This played a major role in creating a lot of tension in the demonstrating neighborhoods, and caused some angry reactions where some of the young men in these neighborhoods attacked loyalist neighborhoods.
This resulted with an exchange of random and heavy fire, which spread to many neighborhoods of the city.
- In the same day, there was an invasion to many of the demonstrating neighborhoods like Alkhlidiyeh, Jouret Alshayah, and Bab Tadmor.
Many of activists were detained, and many others killed. Young men of these neighborhoods kidnapped one of the Shabiha, Samer Al-Ahmad, in return. When loyalist neighborhoods knew, they attacked busses and kidnapped 6 women from the demonstrating neighborhoods.
Negotiations took place later and the Shabeeh was released in exchange for the freedom of the 6 women.
- That day, the army set 8 shops on fire in Karm Alzaytoun area in retaliation to kidnapping that Shabeeh. Also, one of the detainees from the demonstrating neighborhoods was brought in a car trunk to Alzahraa neighborhoods, and then they took him out of the trunk to beat and abuse him in front of the people.
Then they brought 7 other Bedouins, took off their clothes and beat them relentlessly while insulting and abusing them before they were released.
- All of those criminal and provocative acts, which all happened in the same day, are clearly planned for an obvious reason: heavy and random shooting in all city neighborhoods.
It’s worth mentioning that Alzahraa neighborhood is fully armed by the regime since the beginning of the revolution. “Even water tanks exploded after young men in the neighborhood opened fire on rooftops” says an activist from that neighborhood.
- Many of the activists and eye-witnesses think that many of the bodies belonged to kidnapped people who were killed and then thrown in the streets to fuel the fight among neighborhoods that day.
Names of martyrs of the sectarian events of that day, that could be documented so far, are:
Nasser Hammoud Shourtani
Samer Hammoud Shourtani
Tawfic Hammoud Shourtani
Qasem Hammoud Shourtani
Ahmad Hammoud Shourtani
Samir Mohammad Shourtani
Ahmad Mohammad Shourtani
Hassan Mohammad Shourtani
While brothers Khaled and Ibrahim Ahmad Alabed were kidnapped in Alzahraa neighborhood when they were distributing flour. They are originally from Deir Baalbeh neighborhood.
Omar Ahmad Samha
Hassan Hamad Almohammad
These names of course don’t include the rest of the martyrs who were killed by the hands of security forces and Shabiha in several parts of Homs that day.
We were also informed of the funerals of four people from Alzahraa neighborhood but were not able to get their names yet.
Regardless of details and facts, the opinions we got from field activists and local coordination committee members in these neighborhoods included:
• The regime is completely responsible for the kidnapping of people in the demonstrating neighborhoods
• Reverse kidnapping is now a reality, mainly to exchange with those kidnapped from demonstrating neighborhoods.
• Amidst the daily brutal oppression by the regime’s army, security forces and Shabiha, and when loyalist neighborhoods are added to the equation as an enemy of the demonstrating neighborhoods, acts of revenge are starting to get out of control.
• The absence of any political discourse and the impossibility to establish one during this brutal oppression, the fast pace of the events, and the absence of a political agenda that could move and coordinate people.
• Despite the presence of local coordination committees and the revolutionary forces on the ground, the ability to control the situation is practically impossible now.
About what’s mentioned above, and the supposed role for national figures and the revolutionary forces in containing the situation, the opposition figure and author Yassin Haj Saleh says:
“There should not be any doubt of the regime’s entire responsibility for the sectarian turn of events in Homs. They used force and humiliated the people in the demonstrating neighborhoods. They starved them and incited hate between the people of different neighborhoods of Homs.
Therefore, the efforts of everyone in the city should unite in facing the regime and not facing each other, for they are all equally the regime’s victims, but in different ways.
The continuation of this sectarian feud, kidnapping and killing, and reverse kidnapping and reverse killing, is a victory to the regime and a way to keep people occupied in their internal fighting instead of working together for a new Syria that is built on brotherhood, freedom, dignity and respect for everybody”
He adds: “we call upon the rational people and local activists, as well as religious figures in the city, to stand against this sectarian episode before it gets out of control and burns everybody. We call upon all Syrians inside and outside of Syria, to work together and do what they can to help our brothers in Homs to avoid this dangerous slide.
We know that the most efficient solution for this tragedy is to get rid of this criminal regime, but we increase our chances to do so if we maintain the unity of Syrians put a stop to anything that can hurt our national unity”.
Activist Omar Idlibi sees that “the people of Homs have managed to stop the regime’s plans to raise sectarian tension, and heal the city wounds for 8 months, thus maintaining the values of the revolution. However, the nature of people and their will to protect their families are making some of them seek revenge and engage in violent acts. This is the kind of behavior that we refuse entirely, even though we understand where it comes from.
The more frequent these acts become, the regime will have better chances in scaring minorities, especially Alawites, who will find themselves surrounded by fear of blind revenge and the regime’s efforts to drag them in their crimes which don’t discriminate between Syrians, nor sects.“
Based on the aforementioned, the local coordination committees in Syria, out of fear for things going out of control with the regime’s continuous efforts to push for sectarian wars, is making the following recommendations:
First: to the Syrian regime:
Employees in security forces, the army, Baath party and Shabiha should realize that legal responsibility for the abuses and crimes they have committed are individual responsibilities, and they will be accountable for them no mater when.
Second: to the Syrian National Council:
1- The Syrian National Council should play a responsible role through representatives of revolutionary forces and the president of the council personally. This can be done by talking to activists and local coordination committee members in order to contain anything that could result from such practices.
2- The Syrian National Council should participate in providing practical and political alternatives in order to develop the peacefulness of the revolution and protect it from any attempt to discredit it with sectarian wars.
3- The Syrian National Council should immediately activate their offices, which should be connected to the revolutionary movement inside of Syria, the revolutionary movement offices, and the aid office. This is a move that can support the political ties between the council and the ground.
Third: to activists on the ground:
1- Activists should realize that they bear the responsibility for the continuation of the revolution and its success in removing the regime and the transformation towards a democratic pluralistic system and a civil society.
2- Activist should realize that the regime is trying to weaken the ties of between the sects and groups of the Syrian society, in order to break the society and release tribal instincts. This way they could get total control over individual social groups that are isolated by fear and doubts.
3- Activists should form local councils that have political and social responsibility to maintain and strengthen social ties and communication among different groups.
4- Activist should play a role in containing revenge instinct and turn it into a productive power by being involved in daily peaceful revolutionary acts.
Fourth: to Arab, and International media, as well as alternative media outlets of the Syrian revolution:
1- All employees in all the media outlets should seek professionalism when dealing with sensitive issues that might have catastrophic results on the human and national level in Syria.
2- The Syrian Revolution facebook page and individual local coordination committees’ facebook pages should seek integrity when reporting news of this nature; otherwise they would be helping the regime media in fueling revenge instincts in people.
3- These pages should follow he general lines of the revolution with its entire humanitarian, national and moral values.
4- These pages should stop showing videos and images of a sectarian nature that might fuel sectarian and group tensions. Instead, they should use it as documents that should be provided to activists and concerned organizations. This way these documents can be used in front of local and international courts as testimonies and evidences against those who committed crimes and abuses.
5- These pages should abstain from using names and expression of a sectarian nature and replace it with political and revolutionary vocabularies.
Fifth: to community and religious figures of all sects:
1- Community and religious figures from all sects should assume their roles and moral, religious and national responsibilities in maintaining bridges between people of the same society.
2- They should participate in creating local councils that include all sects and political currents. The work would be to prevent and contain and defuse any sectarian acts as a first priority.
3- They should invest in the people’s religious and social emotions to maintain social connections through underlining the values of forgiveness and opening up to the other.
4- They should use their positions to direct the people towards social amalgamation through activating aid groups and expand their activities outside the usual sectarian and individual borders.
Sixth: to the free Syrian Army
1- The officers of the army and their soldiers should realize that their national and ethical subjection to abusing the rights and dignity of the Syrian people makes them the seed for a national army that knows its priorities in protecting their national land and their people.
2- They have to realize that their defection from the army and its officers after all the killing and daily abuses a heroic act in the eyes of the Syrian people.
3- They have to realize that their defection, and protecting the demonstrations of their people, makes them an integral part of the peaceful revolution. This makes them bear the same responsibility as the revolutionaries who should work on protecting the continuation of the peaceful revolutionary path, as well as the national and human component of the Syrian revolution.
4- The officers and soldiers of the Free Syrian Army should realize that they should continue this role they are playing without being dragged to acts that could hurt the peaceful oath of the revolution and the social construct of the Syrian people.
Note: this report does not address the crimes of the regime in the past few days, but only focuses on what has been circulated about sectarian acts in Homs.