Ravaged by civil war and Islamic State occupation, the battered western Syrian city of Homs is slowly rising from a crippled existence.
Its uneasy renaissance is seen in the Waer district, one of the city’s ancient neighborhoods, where a recent truce between government forces and opposition rebels, brokered by the United Nations, resulted in a partial departure of rebel fighters and a return to regime control.
People in Homs are attempting to resume their daily routine. Traffic police are trying to organize the movement of vehicles and people. Shops are reopening. Residents who fled are trickling back. Civilians are receiving humanitarian aid.
“This is certainly good for the local population,” said Rami Abdulrahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that has researchers throughout Syria. “People in Waer and many other areas of Homs were deprived of basic services for months.”
Just a month ago, Waer was a war zone as it has been since 2011, when battles erupted between rebels and government forces. Later, IS entered the chaos and stayed for five months.
The scars of fierce fighting are visible on many streets and buildings. Some neighborhoods have been flattened and burned-out cars are seen on many streets.
Homs is again under the control of the Syrian government, which is trying to consolidate its grip over the strategic province that connects the capital, Damascus, to the Alawite stronghold on the coast.
Residents are warily satisfied with the ongoing cease-fire, despite a twin bombing blamed by the regime on “terrorists” that claimed at least 20 lives last week.
“Things are much better now. At least there is no fighting anymore,” said one resident whose neighborhood is not far from Waer.
He and other residents say there is unease among the local population regarding the length of the withdrawal process.
There are approximately 2,700 opposition fighters still stationed inside the Waer district, observers say.
The withdrawal of opposition fighters, including the al-Qaida affiliate al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, is taking place as agreed. However, a full withdrawal is yet to ensue gradually.
The remaining fighters belong to groups that either are against the truce or are going to withdraw at some point per the cease-fire agreement, locals say.
Human rights issues
Human rights activists and opposition groups have accused the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime of imposing sieges on civilians in Homs and elsewhere, in hopes the crackdown will force opposition groups to retreat.
“This [Syrian] regime excels at doing these [blockades]. They exert pressure on civilians in order to gain a political and military advantage from the opposition,” Abdulrahman told VOA.
With the help of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Russian airstrikes, forces loyal to Assad have retaken much of the rebel-held areas.
Government forces also have taken territories controlled by IS in the eastern part of Homs province.
Similar cease-fire agreements have taken place elsewhere in Syria, where government troops allow opposition fighters and civilians to evacuate besieged towns.
This is part of a plan proposed by U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.
“The U.N.’s clear goal is to reach, as soon as possible, a nationwide cease-fire,” deputy U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters in December.
VOA’s Sirwan Kajjo contributed to this report from Washington.