Revisiting Syria, 20 - 25 June 2013

Kris Janssen

Belgium

Al-Qusayr is a small city in Homs governorate. It is located about 35 kilometres from the

provincial capital Homs and 15 kilometres from the Lebanese border overlooking a

mountainous area.

Although it's a small city, it has great strategic importance because of its proximity to

Lebanon and it provides a direct gateway to the provincial capital of Homs, the coastal

area around Tartous and also to Damascus countryside.

The small city of al-Qusayr grabbed the world's headline news in the last couple of weeks

because of the ferocious battle which took place between the extremist militants and the

so called Free Syrian army supported by the international anti-Syrian coalition on the one

hand and the Syrian National Army on the other hand. The battle for the liberation of al-

Qusayr began on the 19th of May and ended on the 5th of June 2013 resulting in a

decisive victory for the Syrian National Army.

Because of its strategic importance, the extremist militants designed a plan to capture al-

Qusayr and to use the city as a launching pad for further attacks and terrorist actions.

Their operations started in February 2012 and were build around the same tactics used

before in other parts of Syria, especially in the city of Daraʼ a near the Jordanian border.

Just as Daraa'

The city of al-Qusayr is near to a border, in this case the Lebanese border,

which made it an easy target to infiltrate. The master plan was to have some rough

elements infiltrating the city and making trouble after the Friday prayers as to provoke the

security services and police. The extremist elements hoped for a heavy handed

intervention of the security services and by doing so provoking violence and conflict

between the civilian population and the security services. The local administration, well

aware of these attempts, didn't trap into this provocation and stayed as much as possible

on the sidelines. When this provocation failed, some terrorists with a foreign nationality

intervened and opened fire from sniper positions killing an innocent civilian hoping that the

inhabitants would put the blame on the security services. This started a vicious cycle of

violence and while making use of the confusion more terrorists infiltrated the city and

began a campaign of sectarian cleansing in which they forced all Christians, Shi'a Muslims

and Alawites out of the city or to be killed. When these families fled the city their houses

were immediately taken by the terrorists and their belongings looted. From this moment on

they started to terrorise the remaining inhabitants who decided to stay and to attack the

local police- and security services gradually taking over full control of al-Qusayr.

It should be mentioned that some families refused to flee al-Qusayr and decided to stay

whatever the cost and by doing so risking their lives and that of their relatives. One person

became a local hero and a symbol for his actions representing others who made similar

attempts to defend their streets and neighbourhoods till the last moment sacrificing their

lives for the defence of the homeland. His name was Hanna (Arabic for John). Hanna was

a Christian from al-Qusayr. When the extremist militants took over the city he refused to

give in to the threats and organised with his family, friends and neighbours a self-defence

brigade to protect his street and neighbourhood against the sectarian cleansing carried out

by the terrorists. For more than four months he managed to defend the neighbourhood

although fully surrounded by the extremists and even after the killing of his father and

brother he continued his courageous defence efforts. When after four months Hanna

himself was killed he became a symbol for the inhabitants of the city and the slogan “We

are all Hanna” became a household name along the population of al-Qusayr used not only

to honour Hanna but also to honour and remember all the other martyrs who gave their

lives in the same circumstances to defend al-Qusayr and its inhabitants against the

barbaric acts of the terrorists. There was not only one Hanna but many Hanna's who

scarified their lives for the noble goal of freedom and against extremism.

Once the terrorists took over al-Qusayr, they began implementing their diabolic plan of

destroying every possible symbol of peaceful coexistence between the inhabitants of al-

Qusayr. They destroyed the local church, mosques and other important places where Shia

Muslims, Alawites or Christians used to come together.

Furthermore, these terrorist elements began to dig tunnels under all public buildings and

placed explosives beneath them to blow them up. Especially those building which provided

a service to the community as the public hospital that had such an excellent reputation that

it even was used extensively by the Lebanese living over the border, but also schools,

electricity- and water supply infrastructure were destroyed. The purpose of these

destructions was to erase every form of peaceful cohabitation between the citizens of al-

Qusayr and make living conditions so harsh as to force the Christian, Shia and Alawite community out of the city or to be killed. It should also be mentioned that in the sick and twisted minds of these extremists the public buildings were not there to provide services to the population but symbolised the authority of the Syrian government. According to their

vision the public hospital providing healthcare for the whole population of al-Qusayr and

surroundings was “the hospital of Bashar al-Assad”. The schools providing education for

the children of al-Qusayr were in analogy “the schools of Bashar al-Assad”, etc... . In this

twisted logic every public building or infrastructure providing services to the population had

to be destroyed bringing living standards in al-Qusayr back to the stone ages.

On the 19th of May 2013, the Syrian National Army began a massive military operation to

liberate al-Qusayr. This resulted in a decisive victory and the Syrian army regained full

control of al Qusayr on June 5th. The terrorists, faced with an absolute defeat, began

implementing the tactic of the scorched earth. While retreating, they carried out the

destruction of the whole city by blowing up the remaining private houses or using them as

hiding places to open fire on the advancing Syrian army. At the end of the battle of al-

Qusayr, not a single house or building in the centre of the city was spared by the

destructive actions of the terrorists. Not a single house or building in al-Qusayr was or

demolished or heavily damaged. These destructions didnt really have a military tactical

purpose but was carried out by these extremist militants for the sake of the destruction

itself. To make a return by the inhabitants of al-Qusayr to their homes or what is left of it as

difficult as possible and also to let the Syrian authorities face the tremendous task of

rebuilding the demolished city from scratch.

The Western media were quick to accuse the Syrian army for the destruction of the city as

a result of its military operations but all witness reports from the local inhabitants who were

still trapped in the city during the battle point to the coalition of Jabhat al-Nusra fighters

and the so called Free Syrian Army as the culprits and perpetrators of the destruction of al-

Qusayr. Moreover, it would make no sense at all for the Syrian National Army to destroy

the city and this for several reasons. First of all, the Syrian National Army is the army for

every Syrian independent of their sectarian background. The ultimate goal of liberating al-

Qusayr was to make it possible for all its citizens to return to their homes in safety to

rebuild and continue their lives. Destruction of the city would make this goal much more

difficult as everything has to be rebuild and, most importantly, the local population put their

trust in the Syrian army as defenders of the homeland. It would be totally illogical and

contradictionary to think that the Syrian army, being the liberators of al-Qusayr and

defenders of the homeland, providing security to its citizens, would have an interest in

destroying al-Qusayr. To underline the positive role of the Syrian army and authorities it

must be stressed that the same day the Syrian National Army liberated al-Qusayr thegovernor of Homs province came to the city to support the citizens and make an account

of the destructions perpetrated by the terrorists. Forthwith a full inventory was made of

priority repairs to be done to provide the citizens as soon as possible with all the basic

amenities and utilities to facilitate the return to their houses. Just days after the liberation

of al-Qusayr workshops were already implementing these repairs restoring water and

electricity to some parts of the city, removing debris and clearing streets. Because of the

scale of the destruction new power-lines and pipes for the distribution of electricity and

water have to be rebuild all over the city but engineering units and mobile workshops are

working day and night to gradually restore these services in every neighbourhood of al-

Qusayr.

Another element of the battle of al-Qusayr which was highlighted in the Western media

was the role played by the Hezbollah resistance movement in the liberation of the city. The

view put forward by these Western media outlets was that without the direct involvement of Hezbollah the Syrian army would not have succeeded or would not have been able to

liberate al-Qusayr and defeat the terrorists and extremists active in the city.

As an answer to these faulty statements made to influence and disinform the general

public it should be underlined that the role of Hezbollah was a supportive role while the

liberation of al-Qusayr and the accompanying military operations where fully carried out by

the Syrian National Army according to a tactical plan designed and implemented by the

command of the Syrian army itself. The main reason of the involvement of Hezbollah was

to secure the border areas cutting off supply routes to the extremist militants and by

securing the border areas also making sure that the conflict would not spill over to the

villages on the Lebanese side of the border. Another aspect, generally not known by the

Western public, is that a significant number of Lebanese citizens are living on the Syrian

side of the border. These Lebanese civilians are extremely vulnerable as the Lebanese

army cannot provide them with security because they are living on the Syrian side of the

border and the Syrian army was fully engaged in liberating al-Qusayr and providing

security to its own citizens. Because of this precarious situation, the Hezbollah movement

had no choice as to intervene and secure the borders to avoid a massacre by the

retreating extremists.

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