Sat 14 Dec 2019

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Homs Countryside Back to Poverty-Stricken “Bosom of the Homeland” a Year After “Settlement”

A Syrian soldier takes photos near a Russian military vehicle, in a convoy during the reopening of the road between Homs and Hama - June 2018 (Reuters)

A Syrian soldier takes photos near a Russian military vehicle, in a convoy during the reopening of the road between Homs and Hama - June 2018 (Reuters)

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A year has passed since the “settlement” agreement signed by opposition factions in the northern Homs countryside with the Russian forces who guaranteed the Syrian regime’s commitment to its terms. The deal led to the transfer of the fighting factions that rejected the agreement to the “liberated” Syrian north. Meanwhile, Jaish al-Tawhid led by Manhal al-Salouh, remained as the broker of the agreement, in coordination with Syria’s Tomorrow Movement headed by Ahmed al-Jarba.

The international highway was reopened, in return for the entry of services, state institutions and police stations, with the deployment of Russian monitoring points to ensure regime compliance with the agreement.

Civilians’ living conditions and security were expected to improve, as well as postponement of military conscription in the regime’s army. The deal also stipulated the provision of basic services such as electricity, water and sanitation, as well as the total return of economic activity in the area.

However, the area’s locals were shocked, after the regime promised to “embrace of the warm bosom of the homeland” to find only an impoverished homeland. State institutions have sufficed with the restoration of what they could to a minimum extent, instead of turning their attention to the collection of bill and taxes that had accumulated for more than eight years. Meanwhile, the Division of Military Recruitment is the only department that has fulfilled its role.

A Crisis for Young Men

One of the most important provisions of the signed agreement was to ensure that youths are not forced into compulsory military service, to which the regime committed to a certain extent. However, the Assad regime has been forcing young men towards recruitment by tightening the screws on them. Any official paper that a citizen needs to issue to apply for a job, either in the public or private sector, require them to issue a statement of status from the recruitment division proving that they are not required for military service or reserve service.

Mohammad Abu Khalil, a young man from the town of Talbiseh, said to Enab Baladi, “Military police did not come knocking on my door or carry out a raid. However, the regime strived to link the issuance of official papers to statements from the recruitment division. This forced young men to join the conscription, which led to the emptying of the entire area of its young men.”

He added that the number of young men who joined compulsory service has created a severe labor shortage, not only in the northern Homs area, but in all areas of regime control. Moreover, it placed the burden of expenses on parents after their children joined the service.

Arrests From Time to Time

Intelligence branches have changed their strategy in terms of arrests to align with the signed agreement. They worked to arrest defecting officers, and those who worked in the opposition institutions, without drawing the attention of Russian military police. They divided those they sought to arrest into different categories, and arrested them one by one.

Salman, a lawyer who asked not to be fully named for security reasons, said that more than 460 arrests have been documented of people from across northern Homs who have settled their status with regime forces. However, these arrests have been individual, infrequent and relatively few and far between.

Speaking to Enab Baladi, Salman said that the security branches requested defecting officers for interrogation, and then arrested them each according to their role, followed by the ranks of officers and privates. They also arrested aid workers and the civil defense, each for a certain period to avoid causing disturbance in the streets. The regime adopted these measures to remain compliant to the terms of the agreement, and to avoid “embarrassing the Russian forces that guaranteed the implementation of the agreement terms,” Salman said.

Poor Service Conditions

Since the signing of the agreement, and the entry of “state institutions”, the residents of northern Homs have not noted any real progress in service provision – at any level. On the contrary, the condition of health services has declined markedly after the closure of the field hospitals, which included a medical staff with almost all specialties, as well as operation rooms and intensive care units offering free services for all.

The Syrian regime shut down all of these hospitals, replacing them with clinics overseen by nurses in which only painkiller pills and injections are available, as well as simple equipment for stitching minor wounds.

Operation rooms and intensive care units are not available, except in private hospitals which are for the most part inhibitively expensive for the locals.

Nadia, a nurse who works in a clinic in the village of al-Zaafarana, told Enab Baladi that the health sector has seen a significant decline after signing the reconciliation agreement. The area is in dire need of experienced doctors, as the majority of its medical staffs have opted to be displaced or traveled, or refuse to live in the northern Homs countryside due to it poor service conditions. She indicated that services available in the clinics are limited to stitching minor wounds, the provision of bandages and some palliative medicine – with very limited quantities.

A Single Bakery Supplies the Entire Area

As for bread, the most fundamental food item, the General Bakery Company has still not managed to rehabilitate its bakeries to provide their services to citizens. It relies instead on private bakeries, or those set up by relief organizations in an earlier time.

Yasser Abu Nizar, a resident of the city of Rastan, said to Enab Baladi, “A year has passed since the reconciliation agreement was signed, and yet the Bakery Company has still not managed to repair its automated bakeries in the city, which served all villages and towns of northern Homs. The bakery established by Ihsan organization is the only one active in the northern Homs countryside that isn’t private, and supplies the needs of Rastan and all its villages with bread.”

As for the telecommunications network, there is no progress to speak of, except for the installation of three network towers in the region which are only operation when electricity supply is available, and go out of service as soon as electricity is interrupted. As for fuel, there is no need to address it, as it is a crisis experienced in all the areas controlled by the Syrian regime.

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