Homs Residents Return to a Devastated City

HOMS, Syria (Los Angeles Times/MCT) -
Residents arrive on foot to inspect their homes, after the cessation of fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, in Homs city (REUTERS/Ghassan Najjar)
Residents arrive on foot to inspect their homes, after the cessation of fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, in Homs city (REUTERS/Ghassan Najjar)

The people of war-battered central Homs came Sunday to salvage what remained of their belongings and homes after years of conflict and siege.

A deal finalized last week led to the evacuation of some 2,000 rebel fighters from the historic Old City, allowing many residents and shop owners to return for the first time in two years. What they saw shocked many.

The once-bustling heart of Syria’s third-largest city is now an apocalyptic jumble of bombed-out buildings, bullet-sprayed store-fronts and rubble-strewn streets and alleys. Shelling, aerial bombardment and gun battles have taken an extraordinary toll. The pungent smell of smoke is still evident.

Returnees often found little beyond devastated residences and looted businesses and a few tokens of their former existence. But they grabbed what they could, stuffing what remained of their former lives into baby carriages, suitcases and plastic bags and onto bicycles and scooters to take to their new homes. The neighborhood remains largely uninhabitable.

The brisk traffic of former residents and their meager belongings clogged the battered streets.

“It’s not much, just a few small things,” Rafi Sepechian said as he and his wife lugged several chairs, a floral print and a suitcase full of odds and ends from their former flat in the Old City. “It’s badly damaged, but we plan to rebuild. We love our home.”

Thousands have been making the trek in recent days since the rebels exited the sprawling area and it was declared safe. On Sunday, an almost festive air was evident, despite the sense of disbelief and gloom at the utter scale of the destruction. Homs’ war-weary residents seemed keen to show their resolve and will to get on with life. Many voiced the hope that the more than three-year conflict could be winding down, though the war grinds on in many parts of Syria, including Homs.