The focal point of the four-month-old Syrian uprising shifted this week from Hama to the central Syrian city of Homs, as the country's first major sectarian violence erupted there between majority Sunnis and minority Alawites (President Bashar al-Assad's sect), and as Syrian forces reportedly laid siege to the city. Today, the news out of Syria's third-largest city is growing worse, with residents and rights activists telling Al Jazeera that "many gunmen on the streets [are] shooting randomly" and that some of the injured and dead remain on the streets because heavy gunfire is preventing people from retrieving them. Others tell Reuters that the army fired at worshipers as they left a mosque earlier this morning, that security forces backed by tanks are making mass arrests, and that humanitarian conditions are deteriorating, with local hospitals calling for blood donations to treat the wounded. The anti-government Local Coordination Committees claims that some soldiers have defected and are firing back at troops who are attacking civilians, according to the AP. "If half of what the LCC is reporting is true, there was basically a war in Homs today," Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell tweets.
The Syrian government is telling a very different story. The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency is running a story on injured soldiers recounting the "criminality" of "outlawed armed groups against citizens, properties, and army and law-enforcement members in Homs," while the pro-government Al-Watan claims security forces are conducting "qualitative and delicate" operations to apprehend armed men.
While footage of the events in Homs is limited, some videos are emerging on activist websites.This clip from the Sham News Network shows smoke and the sounds of gunfire rising from a neighborhood in Homs:
This video, highlighted by Dubai-based journalist Jenan Moussa, captures the shooting closer up and shows an armored vehicle racing by the camera:
While foreign journalists are barred from Homs, two journalists for The New York Times did manage to sneak into the opposition stronghold of Hama earlier this week shortly after The Economist also managed to publish a report from the city. Hama has emerged "as a turbulent model of what a city in Syria might resemble once four decades of dictatorship end," reporter Anthony Shadid wrote. "In skittish streets, there are at least nascent notions of self-determination, as residents seek to speak for themselves and defend a city that they declare theirs." Photographer Moises Saman added, "The most exciting moment was joining this protest--after seeing all these shaky YouTube videos from so far way."