On Feb. 3, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces began a bombardment of Homs, one of the centers of the revolt against the regime. Over the succeeding 20 days, the assault reduced the city to rubble. Mulham al-Jundi, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), recently traveled to Homs to provide an up-close look at the destruction wrought in what has become the single greatest confrontation between Assad and his rivals. These are his photos, which he originally placed on his Facebook page.
Though a precise death toll in Homs is hard to come by, hundreds have been killed in the past three weeks. The casualties include brave Syrian citizen journalists such as Rami al-Sayed, who was killed on Feb. 21, and Western journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik.
Colvin was a veteran American-born correspondent for Britain's Sunday Times. "They call it the widows' basement," she wrote in her final dispatch from the neighborhood of Baba Amr. "Crammed amid makeshift beds and scattered belongings are frightened women and children trapped in the horror of Homs."
Sarah Topol remembered her colleague for FP: "Marie set the gold standard in every way: personal and professional. Her reporting and writing were thorough, captivating and honest -- she was fearless and got to the heart of the story. As a person, Marie was witty, compassionate, and generous with her time and wisdom."
Ochlik, 28, was a talented French photographer who had already covered the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. World Press Photo awarded his photo essay on the Libyan rebels first prize in the general news category earlier this month.
Some of the destruction of Homs has been accomplished with Russian-made 240 millimeter mortar rounds. "It is by far the most powerful mortar in modern use -- most other countries stop at 160mm mortars, and a very powerful weapon," Human Rights Watch emergency director Peter Bouckaert said.
Despite the crackdown, protests against the Assad regime have continued in Homs -- usually at night. The ongoing destruction of the city has also been a rallying point for protests elsewhere in the country: On Feb. 18, mass demonstrations spread to the upscale Damascus neighborhood of Mezzeh for the first time.
The assault on Homs's restive areas has, so far, been conducted primarily through shelling. Snipers are everywhere, and Homsis still live in fear that Assad's security forces will launch a ground assault on their neighborhoods. "They are planning a massive ground invasion of Baba Amr, no matter what the cost is and no matter what the number of casualties is, even if they have to annihilate everyone in the neighborhood," a Syrian activist told CNN last week.
As Assad's forces seal off Homs, many neighborhoods are suffering from critical shortages of food and medical supplies. "We are watching the wounded die. All we are doing is using pieces of clothes to cover their wounds then watch them die," one Baba Amro resident told Reuters.
Syria's remaining allies, however, have been steadfast in their support for Assad as the crackdown continues. Just one day after the assault began, Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have lent international support for a political transition in Syria.
Assad, however, appears to have lost the rest of world opinion during the past three weeks: On Feb. 16, a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Syria passed with 137 votes in favor and only 12 countries opposed.
The violence in Homs -- and across Syria -- shows every sign that it will get worse before it gets better. Activists said that 74 Syrians were killed across the country on Wednesday, 20 of which were in Homs.
As Syrian writer Omar Adam Sayfo explains for FP, Homs has long been the butt of Syrian jokes, which have painted the city’s residents as particularly dim-witted. Homsis have long been the country’s “eternal rebels,” Sayfo writes, standing outside the political and cultural mainstream. But when it comes to jokes now, he says, “nobody is laughing.”