Eight years under Hezbollah’s rule: al-Qusayr today

The Syrian flag held high along with Hezbollah’s flag on top of a military vehicle on the Syrian-Lebanese borders - August 2017 (AFP)

The Syrian flag held high along with Hezbollah’s flag on top of a military vehicle on the Syrian-Lebanese borders - August 2017 (AFP)

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Homs – Orwah al-Mundhir

Every time Abu Somer travels from Homs to Damascus while transporting vegetables, he tries to overlook a huge road sign erected 20 kilometers south of Homs, informing drivers taking the international highway (M5) linking Homs and Damascus, that they are approaching the al-Qusayr city’s junction. 

Abu Somer described to Enab Baladi the feelings he develops whenever he approaches his city that he fled years ago. He said, “I make my car go faster when I come near the al-Qusayr bridge. My heart aches every time I pass that road.” 

Abu Somer was forced to leave the city of al-Qusayr eight years ago and could not return because the Lebanese Hezbollah militia established a headquarters in the neighborhood containing his house.

Abu Somer told Enab Baladi that for drivers to enter the city, they must cross the bridge and pass through a security checkpoint for the regime’s 4th Division. The elements on the checkpoint question the drivers about their reason for seeking entry after inspecting their vehicles thoroughly. The drivers then have to go through a series of barriers belonging to Hezbollah.

A conditioned return

The majority of the al-Qusayr residents were denied the right to return home, and most of them are still living in displacement camps in Lebanon or Syrian cities in the Qalamoun region, or in Homs city center, even though the Syrian regime has regained control of the city.  

Abu Mohammed Toumeh, a resident of al-Qusayr city who has fled his area to the northern countryside of Homs, told Enab Baladi that “Nothing is encouraging about returning to  al-Qusayr.” “Hezbollah has complete control and influence over the city and the villages of al-Qusayr, and it deliberately provides poor services to discourage residents from returning home.”  

Toumeh pointed out that even if the former residents were motivated to return, they still have to obtain a security clearance given only to the Syrian regime’s affiliates and loyalists.  

Toumeh explained that the majority of those who returned to al-Qusayr had left the city when the opposition factions took control of it. As for those who fled because of the regime, only a few of them were granted permission to return home.

According to Toumeh, the security approval given by Hezbollah is the main prerequisite to returning, for the regime’s intelligence branches, have no authority whatsoever inside the city.

Since February 2014, people of al-Qusayr have been prevented from returning to their properties. However, in October 2019, the regime’s state and pro-government media outlets announced the return of a batch of displaced residents after Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, called on the city residents to return home in September 2019. 

Hezbollah dominates smuggling routes of al-Qusayr

The city of al-Qusayr is of strategic importance due to its location and proximity to the Lebanese borders. It is the main route for the passage of smuggled goods that benefit Hezbollah.

Yousef, a university student from al-Qusayr, told Enab Baladi that the city was a bustling hub for smuggling between Lebanon and Syria before 2011.

Yousef mentioned that Hezbollah had dominated the smuggling activity after it controlled the city and the Syrian-Lebanese borderline. As a result, local smugglers had to work in loading goods or as drivers to secure a living, while Hezbollah received all smuggling profits. 

With the support of Hezbollah, the Syrian regime re-established its control over al-Qusayr eight years ago. The battles to recapture al-Qusayr were the first to witness the involvement of foreign forces alongside the regime’s army.

Statistics released in 2011 revealed that 85 percent of the city’s buildings were destroyed in the fighting, and an entire population of about 969,000 were forcibly displaced from their houses.

النسخة العربية من المقال

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