Sammy Ketz, AFP
Last updated: 2 May, 2012

UN observers meet with rebels and regime forces in Homs

Beyond Dik el-Jin intersection in the battered central Syrian city of Homs, a team of UN observers pushes ahead, driving through fields as they make their way to meet rebel forces.

Once on the edge of the rebel-held neighbourhood of Qusur, the white vehicle emblazoned with UN insignia abandons its Syrian army escort as it drives down a deserted road blocked off with tyres.

On board is Lieutenant Colonel Chowdri Farhad, of Bangladesh, as well as an Indonesian female officer and a Norwegian peacekeeping soldier.

Journalists at that point are also asked to remain behind.

At first sight, Dik el-Jin, named after an Abbasid period poet, appears peaceful with its lush green fields and blossoming trees.

But the automatic gunfire and a mortar shell serve as a reminder that the bloody conflict is not yet over, despite the presence of four UN observers who have set up base in the city.

The observers are part of an advance team deployed in Syria to monitor a UN-backed ceasefire that went into effect on April 12.

“It was a fruitful meeting,” said Farhad after meeting for about four hours with rebel leaders in Qusur, while acknowledging that the situation remains volatile.

“We carry out more patrols, and for the moment we’re just monitoring the tension,” he added. “Our task is to monitor the situation and to report to headquarters on what we see. They will study our observations and decide what to do.”

His Indonesian colleague said nonetheless that the situation in Homs had improved somewhat since the arrival of the UN observers.

The unarmed team conducts two patrols a day, one in the morning and another in the afternoon, in rebel areas, especially Khaldiyeh, Qusur and Qarabis.

For regime forces, the Dik al-Jin intersection is one of the most dangerous spots of the city, as it faces three rebel-controlled neighbourhoods.

“The snipers shoot at us during the day, but more so during the night,” a security official said.

“Two days ago, at around 3:00 am they came within about 100 metres (yards) of our post, and they opened fire with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. Two of our men were injured,” he added.

Attesting to how dangerous the spot is, an armoured personnel carrier is used to deliver food for regime troops stationed there.

“This vehicle was authorised by the UN because a van would have been targeted by the rebels,” a Syrian officer said.

Earlier Wednesday, the UN observers were taken to the deserted main square of Homs, the symbolic heart of the town and close to the flashpoint neighbourhood of Khaldiyeh.

The square today is littered with broken glass and rubbish while surrounding buildings are pockmarked with bullet holes.

Around 40 regime troops occupy the abandoned Skyview hotel, most of whose windows were shattered during multiple rounds of fighting in the town.

But the battle appears far from over as the two sides to the conflict seem to be getting ready for the next round.