Homs was one of Syria’s great historic cities,  considered the “capital of the revolution” because of its determined opposition to the Assad dictatorship, with
its first protest against the regime taking place on 25 March 2011.

  Homs first demonstration against the regime in March 2011

Mass demonstrations became regular events, despite continuing  attacks by the security services and the regime's thugs.

  Regime thugs and security forces try to intimidate demonstrators
  by occupying Homs central square, April 2011

But repression simply led to larger and more determined demonstrations.

     Demonstration against regime repression, December 2011

By early  2012 whole districts of the city had freed themselves from government control and were under the protection of the emerging Free Syrian Army – in particular the district of Baba Amr.

The Syrian army responded in February 2012 with an all-out offensive to crush Baba Amr and re-establish regime control of Homs. For almost a month the area  was shelled intensely, producing massive destruction and large numbers of civilian casualties. It was during the siege of Baba Amr that Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin was killed and a number of other journalists including British photographer Paul Conroy seriously injured.

“The scale of human tragedy in the city is immense. The inhabitants are living in terror. Almost every family seems to have suffered the death or injury of a loved one.” Marie Colvin
 “We see neighbourhoods shelled indiscriminately, hospitals used as torture centres, children as young as 10 years old chained and abused. We see almost certainly a crime against humanity.” Ban Ki Moon
Marie Colvin’s last report from the city can be read here. 

A street in Homs before and after the regime siege

After this brutal operation, the Syrian  army eventually took control of most of the city, but pockets of resistance remained, particularly in the Old Town. The regime responded by placing this district – which was still home to  30 000 civilians – under a siege of mediaeval proportion. For eighteen months the residents were denied both food and essential medical supplies, and UN aid convoys were refused entry. 

In a tactic that the regime began to apply to opposition areas across the country, the inhabitants of Homs Old Town were literally driven to starvation.

In January 2014 Father Franz van der Lugt of the Homs Christian community, made a desperate  plea to the world on their behalf:

The following month they agreed to terms of surrender which allowed the United Nations to enter the town and evacuate civilians. Most of the fighters were able to withdraw to other areas.

Civilians allowed to leave Homs Old Town say farewell to their families

Most of those who were evacuated from Homs Old Town sought refuge in the nearby city of al-Waer, another centre of opposition to the regime. With the influx of these refugees al-Waer’s population doubled to nearly 400,000, placing a huge burden on its resources.

Today it is al-Waer that is under siege. The inhabitants have rejected regime demands for a complete surrender and issued an appeal to international opinion.

We will be providing more information on the situation in al-Waer over the next two weeks. 

Bassel Shehadeh: Poetic chronicler of the revolution

The great unsung heroes of the Syrian revolution are the media activists, who every day take their lives into their hands to record both the tragedies and victories of this great struggle for freedom and dignity. They have left us with a mountain of visual material without historic parallel.

One of the finest talents of this courageous band was Bassel Shehada. Bassel was one of the organisers of the first expression of the Arab Spring in Syria – the January 2011 demonstration in front of the Egyptian embassy in Damascus in solidarity with Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

He later received a Fulbright scholarship which allowed him to go to the US to study film making but he cut his studies short to return to Syria and place his skills at the service of the revolution. Bassel went to Homs to chronicle the regime onslaught on that city and to train local media activists. On 28 May 2012 he was killed during an artillery bombardment by regime forces.
Basil Shehadeh - film maker and activist. Photo Credit: Shams News Network
"It was a great shock to learn of the murder of Bassel Shehadeh by Syrian state security forces. A fine and courageous journalist, an admirable human being, Shehadeh should be remembered with great respect by everyone dedicated to justice and freedom. One can only hope that this tragic and shameful atrocity will lead to serious and committed efforts to reverse the course towards catastrophe in Syria, and help its people to obtain the rights they richly deserve."
Noam Chomsky

At his request, Bassel, a Christian, was buried in Homs.

Bassel was regarded by those who knew his work as someone with the potential to become an important filmmaker. The short works he produced in Syria were a combination of powerful narratives of the history of the revolution, and evocative, almost lyrical, works about the human experience of living through those events.

This is his historical documentary Streets of Freedom.

His last film was almost a premonition of his death – I Will Cross Tomorrow – a short work about living in a city where death in the form of a regime sniper casts its shadow over even the most mundane domestic tasks.

The Bassel Shehadeh Foundation has been formed in his memory to support young Syrians in developing creative projects.