Ever since the Assad regime starved the people of Homs into capitulation, under the deal for the withdrawal from the revolution-held districts of old Homs, there has been an unprecedented spate of looting and destruction going on, at the hands of the regime’s ‘army’ (now a mere collection of sectarian militias, invoking Shiism to justify their barbaric actions) and sectarian supporters.
After the revolutionary fighters and their families left the city of Homs, the regime’s army and ‘security’ forces, among them the ‘National Defense Force’, a militia so sectarian that Assad himself has had trouble reigning them in during previous attempts to broker faux ‘agreements, swarmed into the subjugated areas, before people could even return to them. They looted absolutely anything of remote value they could find; even those things of little to no value were stolen from predominantly Sunni areas, in acts of sectarian spite.
Regime soldiers arrived well prepared for the looting in advance; these acts, as some Assad supporters dwelling on various alternative astral plains would have you believe, weren’t just some arbitrary acts by one or two soldiers who need a slap on the wrist. These actions were clearly sanctioned from the top down.
The glorious ‘Syrian Arab Army’, which defends all sects of the Syrian people without prejudice, openly looted the homes, businesses, and possessions of any Sunni-owned buildings which they could get their thieving hands on. Which in retrospect, isn’t very surprising, given that the majority of the soldiers have left the army, leaving it composed of a mere nucleus of vicious, sectarian Alawite and Shiite killers. This is no attack on these sects as a whole, but an exposure of the utterly hollow lies of the regime over the last 40 years. By their logic, ‘secularism’ is the marginalisation and disenfranchisement of most of the population along sectarian lines.
In old Homs, this manifested itself as blatant looting by both the civilian and military supporters of the regime, which the benevolent government of Mr President, Dr Bashar al-Assad, which has the arbitrary power to arrest a citizen for a mere Faceboook post whenever it pleases, did absolutely nothing to prevent. Many of the photographs below are from the ‘Homs After The Return’ Facebook page, set-up by Syrians to document the regime’s sectarian looting and pillaging of the city, once they starved it into submission.
The following photographs are from medical clinics in the neighbourhood of Jorat A’shyah. They have seemingly been ruined by the army, either by the arbitrary bombardments of rebellious areas of the city since 2012 (as a form of collective punishment) or via looting. Both seem likely.
Then, to add more insult to injury, CNN embedded a reporter among the shabiha combing the remains of Homs, after the retreat of the revolutionaries. They fully covered the Syrian ‘army’ as it sneeringly gave them a tour of the areas in which the resistance fighters formerly operated, and showed the pitiful state of the home-made explosive factories they were forced to make weapons in, after the world abandoned them. Not only did they portray them in a way that somehow made the revolutionaries seem like they weren’t desperate civilians trying to defend themselves, but they didn’t even mention who was carrying out the looting, even when Syrian civilians complained about it!
These were not ‘sophisticated’ factories for arms, they were makeshift affairs in ruined buildings, producing primitive weapons, which were to be used ineffectually by a desperate, starving civilian population which was forced to tke up arms against a huge war machine, and had held out stubbornly for three years, only for the world to sell it down the river. CNN’s complicity in the looting and destruction of Homs, to say nothing of the increasingly pro-Assad sympathies of the media (which rarely covers the regime’s crimes, in comparison to the activities of ISIS) will surely never be forgotten by Syrians.
The fact that it has consistently been the Assad regime which has been responsible for the overwhelming majority of the sectarian crimes committed during the genocide in Syria has gone utterly unnoticed by the media in increasingly obvious ways, which would rather fret over crimes committed by a minority of foreign fighters in ISIS (which they callously portray as a Syrian opposition group, when in actuality it collaborates with Assad) and produce paranoid, baseless reports about the threat of foreign fighters potentially returning home, as opposed to the 99.9% of the other crimes – the ones committed by the regime and its supporters.
The Huffington Post was one of the very few mainstream media outlets (as per norm) to report on the sectarian actions of the Assad supporters, including the mass looting of the abandoned homes of displaced residents of Homs.
They call it the “Sunni market” – a comic term with a dark undertone.
As rockets and gunfire crackle in the central city of Homs, hardline loyalists from President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect steal goods from the shattered neighbourhoods of Sunni Muslims, the majority population that led the revolt against him.
Grocery stores and thrift shops become loot markets.
“Maybe I’ll nab a bargain,” says a 50-year-old woman wandering through a supermarket that now trades in looted furniture. “I found a really nice kitchen table set made of gorgeous old wood. But he wants $200 dollars for it!”
Furniture usually goes for around $50 or less. Clothes and shoes are $5 to $20. Everything is open to negotiation.
The woman haggles with the shopkeeper. “These are the spoils of war. It’s our right to take them,” she says.
Even shopping now has a sectarian dimension in Homs, heart of the 15-month-old revolt against Assad, where killings and kidnappings based on religion became common.
Some in the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam and the dominant force in the Syrian elite, say they are only defending themselves. They say Sunnis want to crush them, not establish a democracy as activists say.
“This isn’t stealing, it is our right. Those people support terrorism and we have to finish them off,” says Ayman, a 25-year-old youth wearing pointed black shoes and a studded belt.
Outside the shop, he helps young men with slicked back hair and tight jeans unload television sets from vans.
After security forces pound rebel areas in Homs and Sunni residents flee, pro-Assad Alawite gangs called “shabbiha” sweep in behind them to salvage goods from the rubble.
“The other day our boss sent us to a place near the cultural centre. It was an electronics store – TVs, fridges, stuff like that,” said Ayman.
“We worked it for three hours, taking stuff and putting it in storage. We got 10,000 lira ($147), plus a TV. So why not?”
Not everyone is impressed, says Mahmoud, an old vegetable vendor outside the loot store, his wrinkled face set in a frown.
“They are the dregs of society. Now, Alawites will be seen as thieves,” he said.
But with the conflict ravaging Syria’s economy, some Alawite vendors say they are happy to find a way to scrounge some cash.
“Last week a businessman came from (the port of) Tartous and bought 3 million lira of stolen goods, happy for the deal,” said furniture dealer Hasan. “At the end of the day, I’m a businessman, and people are buying.” (Writing by Erika Solomon; editing by Ralph Boulton)
The looting speaks volumes about the nature of the regime and its supporters; militias lacking any military discipline whatsoever, with the green light from the highest levels to act in an undisciplined, violent manner, to the extent even regime-supporting civilians (now overwhelmingly made up of sectarian individuals) often overwhelmingly loathe them, even if they are too afraid to say so in public. According to one regime supporter:
“The National Defense Forces … the people just hate them. They earn 20,000 or 30,000 pounds per month ($134 or $201) compared to the 500 pounds ($3.30) or so that the army gets. They are not even trained to fight. They are stealing from people, bullying, threatening with weapons and not protecting us.
In their desperate efforts to loot and steal, as well as grab ruined slices of territory for themselves along sectarian lines, the pro-Assad forces will often even turn their guns on each other as opposed to against their enemies. Recently, in the Hamadieh neighbourhood, thuggish NDF paramilitaries even started storming and looting the homes of Christians (seemingly after they had looted all the Sunni homes that they could find), causing the Syrian Social National Party (a fascist, pro-Assad group) militias to open fire on them, killing at least one person.
Not only that, but this isn’t the first instance of regime supporters finding themselves abused by the regime they were on the side of, and again, this is especially true in the case of the murderous NDF militias. In this post on “Al-Watan” (“The Nation/Homeland) pro-regime Facebook page covering Yabroud, the administrators plead for the NDF forces based in Nabek to intervene and reign in the NDF in Yabroud… Which, once it had taken Yabroud, started to madly loot the town, even looting Assad supporters:
According to @al_7leem on Twitter, the posts state that the NDF piled as many as 120 trucks full of looted goods, some from pro-regime houses, and drove off with them, seemingly to make money at the expense of the people. Then Assad wonders why he even alienates his own supporters… Other reports confirmed the looting, both from the pro and anti-regime positions. The looting was so extensive that the pro-Assad forces took both “furniture from civilian homes & stock from factories”. The Local Coordination Committee of Yabroud also reported mass looting in the city. It isn’t the first time that Assad supporters have been given a nasty taste of the medicine which is dealt out to anyone who refuses to back the regime that they back.
It seems that nobody in Syria is immune from the regime’s genocidal, parasitic brutality. The looting and pillaging goes on unabated, not just in Homs, but all across Syria. Meanwhile, Obama congratulates himself on doing utterly nothing to stop Assad, and the world watches either impassively, continuing to covertly support the Assad regime, as it has for decades.
Ben Allinson-Davies is a worker for Radio Free Syria, blogger, and film-maker, who spent over a week in Syria with the people there, including revolutionary forces. His documentary on the revolution can be found here. The fundraising effort can be found here.