In a town near Homs residents walk a fine line every Friday between fear of the Assad regime and the courage to fight it
Martin Chulov near Homs
guardian.co.uk, Friday 10 February 2012
"Just after noon in this rebel-held Syrian town, demonstrators took to the streets to denounce the regime of Bashar al-Assad, as they have done every Friday for the last 11 months.
There were small groups of men at first, emerging silently from mosques, homes and alleyways, then converging like a shoal of fish as they neared the main square. The gathering masses chanted as they walked. Each taunt towards Assad and the Syrian power they so despise seemed to empower the crowd, by now more than 1,000 strong and bellowing to the heavens.
The people were keen to note that the Syrian army, only a few kilometres away, did not dare come after them. And they were just as eager to stress that things are very different up the road in Homs, where Syrian troops on Friday closed in on the rebel-held areas they had bombarded for the past week.....
Sectarianism clearly touches a nerve with the almost exclusively Sunni population of this town. Despite that, the people play to prejudices, which they seem unable to set aside. A self-fulfilling prophecy seems well on the way to being realised, if this forsaken corner of the Sunni heartland is any guide.
"Assad is trying to incite a sectarian war," said one man after being assured his identity would be protected. "There has never been talk [among the Syrian people] of Sunni, Shia, Allawite or Christian. Assad is setting the people against each other."
In a bid to prove his claim of cross-sectarian tolerance, he reached through the throng around us to a grieving man whom he identified as a Christian.
"This Christian lost his nephew last night," the man said." He was fighting with us." Indeed, a dead Free Syrian Army (FSA) soldier had been taken to the town's medical clinic in the evening. His colleagues identified him as a Christian, and said he was one of the few in town to have joined the opposition.
The dead man's uncle could barely speak, and was too terrified to talk for fear of retribution....
"It was like all this in Hama in 1982," said a woman who called herself Umm Zaharedine. "I was there and so was my husband. Assad the father killed 30,000, maybe 40,000 people, and it made the news outside Syria for maybe two minutes. But it's different now, there are cameras, reporters, witnesses and voices. This is part of freedom and is something that even an old woman like me can taste. For too long we have been a society that is not truthful."...."