Last updated: 11 July, 2013

Ramadan brings no respite to Syria’s Homs

An army assault on Homs in central Syria entered its 13th day Thursday, as the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan brought no relief to people in rebel areas, activists said.

“There isn’t a minute that goes by that we do not hear the sound of a rocket or a shell hit the besieged (rebel-held) neighbourhoods, especially Khaldiyeh and Bab Hud,” said Homs-based activist Yazan.

Districts in central Homs, dubbed “the capital of the revolution” by activists, have been under army siege for more than a year.

Speaking to AFP via the Internet on the second day of fasting, Yazan said that “even before Ramadan, we were down to one meal a day”.

Throughout the blockade, rights groups have warned of critical humanitarian conditions in rebel areas of the city, which come under daily shelling and frequent aerial bombardment.

The United Nations has said that some 2,500 civilians are trapped in the besieged neighbourhoods, and activists say there is no way out.

“The situation now is especially difficult for families who were forced to flee their homes because of the intense shelling” that accompanied the latest assault, said Yazan.

For about six months, people living in the besieged neighbourhoods of Syria’s third city have relied on firewood or diesel fuel for cooking.

“We eat rice and bulgur to break our fast in the evening, and thyme and olives before daybreak,” said Yazan.

“This is our second Ramadan under siege.”

During Ramadan, Muslims the world over gather with family over festive meals after sunset when they can break the dawn to dusk fast.

In besieged Homs, however, “there is no electricity, no generators and no water wells” any more, said Yazan.

Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement is taking part in the regime’s military assault on Homs, says the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Despite the difficulties and “the military imbalance, we plan on resisting here”, said Yazan.

The army meanwhile renewed its bid to storm the rebel areas from an entrance point near the 11th century Khaled Bin Walid mosque, which has itself been hit by shells, said the Syrian Revolution General Commission.

“Very fierce battles also raged on all the fronts,” said the SRGC, a grassroots network of activists.

Despite earlier calls by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Syrian opposition for a Ramadan ceasefire, the conflict only looked set for further escalation.

The rebel Free Syrian Army, meanwhile, said it had received a shipment of weapons and ammunition but did not reveal where they came from or where they were deployed.

We have “finally received shipments of ammunition, Kalashnikov machineguns and anti-tank missiles”, FSA political and media coordinator Louay Muqdad told AFP by phone.

The weapons “were not sent by the European Union or the United States”, he said, in reference to Western promises to back the rebels.

Muqdad said although the weapons were used to “destroy more than 90 regime tanks and a massive amount of checkpoints throughout Syrian territory”.

But he said that “these arms are insufficient for all our battles”.

He also described the siege imposed on rebel areas of Homs as “suffocating” and said the FSA is trying to move in ammunition, humanitarian aid and food.

“We are suffering from shortages,” he said.

The Observatory estimates that more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria’s raging war.

On Wednesday alone, at least 102 people were killed in violence across the country, the group said.

Syria’s war began with peaceful demonstrations calling for regime change but morphed into an insurgency after the regime unleashed a crackdown on dissent.