Syrian army captures battered rebel stronghold

Tanks roll through the ruined streets of Homs just before the evacuation of Baba Amr.

Rebels in Homs have withdrawn from the district of Baba Amr, where they have been pounded by shells for a month. The city at the heart of the Syrian uprising looks set to fall.

After 27 days of nightmarish bombardment, Syrian government forces have captured the rebel stronghold of Baba Amr in Homs.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) abandoned the district yesterday morning in what they claimed was a ‘tactical withdrawal.’ Within hours they were replaced by troops loyal to dictator Bashar al Assad.

A hail of shells and mortars has turned Baba Amr into a shattered wasteland. Hundreds are buried in the rubble, many of them civilians. Without food, water, electricity or medicine, survivors are desperate for humanitarian aid.

This aid will now come, but even so Baba Amr’s troubles may not be over. Reports have emerged that 17 of its survivors were yesterday found stabbed to death, some of them beheaded – perhaps the beginning of a wave of vicious recriminations by Assad’s forces.

The city has long been the most stubborn fortress of Syria’s uprising, earning it the title ‘Capital of the Revolution.’ But it has suffered much: a recent video showed thirsty citizens gathering drops of snow in pans after their water supply was cut off. Most commentators say that with Babr Amr fallen, resistance in Homs cannot last for long.

The city has been the front line of the struggle for months – so would its fall mean defeat for the Syrian uprising? Probably not: a scattered force like the FSA and its allies cannot be beaten with one blow to its centre of resistance. For rebels spread across the country, the only real impact of the fall of Homs is psychological.

The Syrian Army, on the other hand, is a highly organised and cohesive force. Wherever it focuses its might, the rebels will be outgunned. Once Homs is under control, Assad will probably turn his artillery on other rebel outposts, such as nearby Hama or the restive villages in the northwest. But the army cannot be everywhere, and who is to say areas will stay loyal once it has left? After all, this is not the first time that Homs has been captured.

The rebels’ lack of leadership makes victory elusive for Assad; but it also prevents them from taking decisive action. It is a familiar situation; and, history suggests, a recipe for long, bloody deadlock.

Disunited we stand?

Some prefer any sort of order to the chaos represented by Syrian rebels – even if it is brutal and restrictive. Anarchy, they say, leads to brutishness and violence; only authority can guarantee stability and civilization.

But for others the ultimate enemy is tyranny, not chaos. Hierarchy makes us slaves to a rigid system, but disunited we are free. Anarchy is better than slavish submission to authority, whatever ‘civilization’ it might bring.

You Decide

  1. Is it more important to you to be stable or to be free?
  2. Is liberty worth the horrendous price paid by the residents of Homs?

Activities

  1. Design a leaflet appealing for humanitarian aid to Homs.
  2. Choose a song that you love. Do you think it more represents order or chaos? Write a paragraph explaining your decision.

Some People Say...

“People are happier when they know their place.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Does the conflict between anarchy and order only apply to dictatorships?
No. It is the subtext to many debates: whether to ban guns, graffiti or smoking in public; whether school students should wear uniforms; whether governments should be should be strong and central or small and local. And the tension extends far beyond politics. Do you prefer a tight, slickly-produced pop song or a rambling 10-minute jam? Ultimately, the underlying tension is the same.
Okay, back to Syria. Is there anything we can do?
Many politicians in Arab countries and the West favour intervention of some kind, such as arming the rebels or bombing Assad’s military positions. But Russia and China are strongly opposed, and if the USA and Europe acted without their support it could cause a diplomatic crisis.

Word Watch

Baba Amr
Recent reports in the media have often treated ‘Homs’ and ‘Baba Amr’ as interchangeable. Baba Amr is actually a district on the outskirts of Homs, but it has witnessed more fighting by far than any other part of the city. Now Baba Amr has fallen, the violence may move to other neighbourhoods.
Free Syrian Army
The FSA is the main opposition group in Syria. It is made up of a ragtag group of resistance fighters, mostly defectors from the Syrian army. They are not united by a single ideology or a clear chain of command – only by shared opposition to Bashar al Assad.
History suggests
There have been many examples from history of a powerful, disciplined army facing a diffuse group of resistance fighters living among the local population. Iraq and Afghanistan are recent examples. But the most famous case is probably Vietnam, where the overwhelming military power of the USA was unable to defeat the poorly armed Viet Cong.

Subjects

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