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Syria begins to succumb to sectarian divisions and civil war.
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Homs is now a war zone, a city under siege by the army of Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad. It is a city where rebel soldiers are being joined by jihadis to fight a guerrilla insurgency, and where once mixed communities have begun to split along religious lines as the seeds of a civil war take root.
"We're working by candlelight because there is no electricity and our generator is running out of fuel," a doctor known as Abdel Rizk from Homs' easterly Karm Zeitoun neighborhood told GlobalPost.
Trained as an anesthetist but lacking any serious painkillers, Abdel Rizk has morphed from a practitioner of the exact sciences into a battlefield surgeon of the most basic kind, completing multiple amputations in a day, using underwear to bandage wounds in the absence of gauze, and appealing desperately for help.
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"We've got almost no medical supplies left," said the doctor, whose 15 patients, dying slowly in a single room of an old Syrian home, included two with serious chest wounds, five injured by mortars and three with amputated limbs.
"I was able to get a few stitches into the amputees, but they are going to die because we have no antibiotics or muscle relaxants," he said, speaking to GlobalPost using a satellite modem because all mobile and landlines have been cut, as has electricity to the neighborhood for the past two months.
"We are calling on the Red Cross or Red Crescent to come right away as the situation is intolerable. Today there was no bread. Children are dying."
Many in Homs fear a repeat of the massacre that took place exactly 30 years ago this month, when Assad’s father, Hafez, sent his artillery to pound neighboring Hama, another Sunni-majority city that dared to rise up against the oppressive rule of one family and a regime drawn largely from the minority Allawite sect, an off-shoot of Shiite Islam.
The 1982 assault on Hama, which was triggered by an armed insurgency by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, ended with Assad’s troops going house to house, killing, raping and looting, with an eventual death toll estimated between 20,000 and 30,000 people, the huge majority civilians.
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Since the bombardment of Homs began on Feb. 3, activists estimate the death toll has exceeded 500 with more than 1,000 people injured. A researcher with the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), who has been traveling between neighborhoods in Homs, told GlobalPost that his group had counted 754 people killed, though accurate figures were impossible to verify.
Amid all the chaos, long dormant sectarian fault lines are beginning to open up, dividing neighbor from neighbor, Sunni from Allawite and opening a space for militants to operate freely.
In the Allawite neighborhood of Homs’ Nuzha district, a GlobalPost reporter met with Haidar, a successful 40-year-old lawyer, who is married to an Allawite school teacher and has two young boys.
Haidar and his family used to live in the Hamadieh area, a mix of Sunnis, Allawites and Christians. But after young Allawites volunteered or were paid to shoot and beat Sunni protesters alongside regular security forces, Haidar said he was “advised” by some of his Sunni neighbors to leave Hamadieh.
“President Assad and his father stacked the security forces with Allawites so now Sunnis see all Allawites as part of the killing machine,” Haidar said. “I understand their feelings, but what can I do?”
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Haidar said he moved to Nuzha for “social protection from my community” and was now considering leaving Syria altogether for Qatar or another Gulf state.
“What is going on in Homs is a real civil war between the government and Allawites on one side and the Sunnis on the other,” Haidar said. “I don’t think we as Allawites have any future in Homs if the Assads go. We are shaking with fear for the future.”
Sectarian disintegration has also occurred the other way, with Sunnis, such as 25-year-old Firas, leaving Allawite neighborhoods. “I will be frank and say Homs is divided. There is no more national unity,” said the Sunni former resident of Haddarah who moved to the Sunni-majority neighborhood of Deir Baalbah. “The Assad regime created