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An Isolated Life in “The Island” District of Homs

Al-Waer is the largest district in Homs, home to tens of thousands of displaced people. Today, it is increasingly isolated from the rest of the city, surrounded by the army, island-like. Residents like this humanitarian volunteer, who asked to remain anonymous, are fearful of what is to come.   .

Written by Alison Tahmizian Meuse Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

There are no regime checkpoints inside of al-Waer, but it is encircled. There are many people that haven’t left for an entire year. For the past half-year, we have been calling it “Jazirat al-Waer,” or al-Waer Island.

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There used to be four ways out of al-Waer, but for the past six months there are only two. One is only open to civilian foot traffic and state employees going to work, and the other is heavily guarded by army checkpoints.

I used to teach near the center of the city, but I cannot anymore. All but two of the schools are [housing] refugees and if I wanted to reach the schools themselves, I would have to go through dangerous checkpoints every day then drive all the way around the city.  I have friends that have not even been able to leave their neighborhoods for a whole year.

There is still a functioning government police station and even a regime hospital. There is a sniper posted on the roof. One day I came across a mother and her son, who had been shot in the head. I sped them to the hospital but the boy was dying. The mother was trying to do mouth to mouth resuscitation to keep him alive, but he was barely hanging on. When we got to the hospital, we were stopped by the checkpoint. They were asking who we were and all of the questions. I screamed that the child was dying, that it was an emergency. But it was too late. He was dead.

The mother thanked me for driving them. That could have been me. It could have been anyone. This is the reality we are living every day.

Life Under Fire

In my bedroom there is a huge hole left by RPG fire. My house faces the orchards around al-Waer, and there were clashes there between the rebels and the army. That was on July 1. We are still under [direct] fire [from the  army], now more than ever before, even though the clashes [with rebel fighters] have subsided. Last week the army fired 25 mortar shells into al-Waer.

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Later in the week a surface-to-surface missile landed in the orchards. It was the third surface-to-surface missile that has been fired against us. The first time it landed in al-Waer and killed around 20 people. The second and third times it landed in the street at night and only caused material damage.

There are people who have surrendered themselves to this reality. But many residents live in a constant state of anxiety. You cannot imagine the level of fear people feel when they hear the deafening sound of a missile headed towards them.  Those who could have left al-Waer, whether for the more secure areas of Homs or to go abroad. There are many young people like me whose families have left, but we stay behind to help.

For the Eid holiday after the holy month of Ramadan we planned a children’s festival. I was one of the volunteers. We had 7,000 children from al-Waer participating. The surface-to-surface missile that landed in al-Waer was only days before the Eid. Some of the children had lost their parents. But they were still smiling.

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