Syria: residents of Homs 'want to start over'

Father Naaman, attempts to rebuild amid the rubble

16 May, 17:55

    Father Michel Naaman celebrates in his church at Homs, after three years Father Michel Naaman celebrates in his church at Homs, after three years

    (by Elisa Pinna).

    (ANSAmed) - HOMS/ROME - Rubble reigns supreme in this former bastion of the anti-regime rebellion, now once more in the hands of the regime. The pasts and memories of its inhabitants have meanwhile been swept away by the violence. ''And yet, among the thousands of Homs residents that are returning to the city after the truce and the rebel withdrawal from the Old City, there is an incredible desire to start over,'' ANSA was told via telephone by Father Michel Naaman, Syrian Catholic priest that on Wednesday officiated over mass for the first time in three years in the Holy Spirit Cathedral of Homs. The photos show a few dozen worshipers in a nave cleaned up as much as possible but with damage done by the war and bombings still visible. Stones are strewn about, the glass has been blown out of the windows and the benches have disappeared. Father Michel said that work is being done on public places to render them fit for use once more. In less than 48 hours after the truce, excavators and volunteers had removed piles of rubble in Watch Tower Square, the symbol of the city, and planted small trees and flowers in the central garden. A few days before in the Orthodox church Um Alzunnar, which was set fire to by the rebels, a mass of thanksgiving was held in which both Christians and Muslims took part, ''an enormous crowd''. On Friday the inhabitants of Homs gathered for the weekly community prayer in the large Khalid Ibn Al-Walid mosque, closed for restoration. The Muslim place of worship is still standing, but barely. Father Michel was one of the local dignitaries that negotiated an agreement calling for the rebels - who had been besieged in the Old City for the past three years under regime bombardment - to lay down their weapons and be evacuated to Al-Dar Al-Kabira, which is still in the hands of Islamist opposition forces. ''There is an area of the modern part of the city, Al-Waar, that is still under rebel control. We are trying to reach an agreement for them to withdraw from that area as well, where over 100,000 people used to live,'' said Father Michel. Despite the air of hope, the desire for normality of those returning to the city, and the infectious enthusiasm of so many young Christian scouts, the situation is still extremely difficult, he noted. Many homes and roads have been mined, and on Thursday one young man and a few policemen were killed. There is also the problem of looting: there have been clashes between rival groups seeking to steal whatever they can. ''Religion has nothing to do with it, these are delinquents that are willing to kill for anything at all. I don't even know what could be left in the destroyed homes of the displaced.'' Homs, which had a pre-war population of over 800,000, was in 2011 the symbol of the uprising against the regime under Bashar Al-Assad. The situation degenerated rapidly with the entrance onto the scene of the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra, which took over the Old City. Most of the population fled to the mountain villages in the surrounding region. Over the past three months, only about thirty civilians had been left alongside the rebel fighters in the Old City, including a brother and sister, Ayman and Zeinat Akhras: two Christians, who to survive were forced to eat leaves. ''Those from the cemetery, with a bit of oil and spices, were the best,'' they told CNN The Dutch Jesuit Frans van der Lugt chose not to leave the city, either, and was killed only a few days before the truce came in. His tomb is now a place of pilgrimage. Local Christians say that rebel fighters were the ones to kill him. (ANSAmed).

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