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Baba Amr in Homs, once an opposition stronghold, is now isolated by a 10-foot high concrete wall.
BABA AMR, Syria — For Syrians on both sides of the concrete wall that now surrounds this neighborhood, the comparisons to the region’s longest running conflict are unavoidable.
“When my wife described the wall to me I immediately thought of the wall built by the Israelis to isolate Palestinian villages and towns in the West Bank,” said Abu Annas, formerly a resident of Homs’ devastated Baba Amr district.
“I can understand that Israel built a wall to protect Israeli settlers from Palestinians. But I cannot understand how a national government builds a wall to separate its citizens from each other.”
Since forcing the retreat of rebel fighters from Baba Amr after a brutal month-long bombardment in February, government forces have constructed a massive concrete wall to seal off the former opposition stronghold.
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A reporter for GlobalPost recently visited Baba Amr and the wall, describing it as up to 10-feet high and made of cement. It's still so new there is no graffiti. Since most residents have long fled, the neighborhood behind the wall has become “a dead land for cats and dogs,” as one former resident described it.
Soldiers and secret police guard the few narrow passages through the wall, arresting any male aged between 13 and 60, said Annas, whose wife and young daughter recently went to check on what remained of their home inside Baba Amr.
“They spent half an hour arguing with the security officer who said his men would have to check them before they passed through,” he said. “She came back crying, saying, ‘There is no Baba Amr.’”
Those houses not destroyed in February's siege have been taken over by soldiers, Annas said. Electricity and phone lines have been cut for months and now cars cannot enter, nor delivery trucks, meaning shops are almost all closed.
Activists in the area said the neighborhood — once home to some 28,000 people — has now been all but abandoned, with only about 1,000 still living inside the wall.
In other Sunni-majority opposition neighborhoods throughout Homs, such as Karm al-Zeitoune, where whole families were killed in recent sectarian massacres, and Deir Balbah and Qarabes, the majority of residents have also fled.
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With the UN-Arab League ceasefire plan in tatters — at least 462 people have been killed since April 16 when the UN resolved to send ceasefire monitors, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committees — and veto-wielding Russia blaming the armed opposition for the majority of attacks, the Assad regime appears to be taking steps to re-exert long-term security control and collectively punish rebellious communities.
On Saturday, Abu Bakr Saleh, a spokesman for the Baba Amr media center who lived through the bombardment, said other security measures were preventing residents from traveling between Baba Amr and neighboring Joubar neighborhood, to the far southwest of the city.
Last week, GlobalPost witnessed continued shelling in Khaldiyeh and Bayada, Sunni-majority neighborhoods in north Homs that support the opposition and lie adjacent to Zahara, a neighborhood of mainly Allawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, to which the ruling Assad family and a majority of government elites belong.
Cairo Street, which leads from north Homs into Zahara in the east of the city, has been renamed “Death Street” by locals after the deadly snipers deployed to rooftops, presumably to protect the pro-regime neighborhood.
On their first visit to Homs on April 21, members of the advance team of UN observers, the first of 300 due to be deployed to monitor violations of the ceasefire agreement, were forced to take cover after shots rang out as they walked down Cairo Street from Bayada.
“The regime will not adhere to the Annan plan and the near future will prove that,” said Omar, a 24-year-old member of the rebel Free Syrian Army, told GlobalPost in an interview at his home in Homs’ Deir Balba.
“The regime is preparing for the post-Annan cease-fire by building walls around Sunni districts to block our movement and is digging a long trench around Homs two meters wide.”
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Reports of Assad’s forces digging trenches around the south and west of Homs, where Baba Amr is located,