Homs Is Birthplace Of Syrian Protest

The city of Homs has been under siege since the Syrian civil war began. Dr. Zaher Sahloul, president of the Syrian American Medical Society, tells NPR's Rachel Martin that Homs is the historical center of anti-government protests.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

That was NPR's Steve Inskeep, reporting last summer. And that peace he referenced still feels very far off to the people of Homs. The city has now been under siege for nearly 600 days. In that time, tens of thousands of people have fled or been displaced from their homes.

Dr. Zaher Sahloul is the president of the Syrian-American Medical Society. He's originally from Homs. He described what the situation is like now.

DR. ZAHER SAHLOUL: It's painful. I still have family members who live in some of the neighborhoods in Homs that are not under siege. But even for them, the life is terrible. My sister had to relocate from her neighborhood, which was completely destroyed. Her children have been having nightmares every day in the past two years because of the violence that they have witnessed, and the shelling.

The areas under siege, of course, the situation for civilians is horrible. As a physician, I've been in contact with some of my friends. And they've been telling me horror stories about patients bleeding to death, about children who are dying of malnutrition and the fact that for the past 600 days or so, the world has not - paying attention to the plight of the civilians trapped in these very historic areas in Homs, which are the most beautiful areas in the city of Homs.

MARTIN: Homs has been besieged for nearly two years. Has it always been resistant to the ruling regime in Syria?

SAHLOUL: In the late '70s and the early '80s, there was resistance movement to the father of the current president, Hafez al-Assad. And at that time, there was a security chief in the city of Homs who made sure that every family suffered. So many people were imprisoned and detained. Many of them were killed. And, you know, people of Homs did not forget that, and it looks like things are happening again, but with more brutality at this time.

MARTIN: How are the people in Homs looking at the peace negotiations in Geneva? Do they feel connected to the opposition in a positive way, or at its mercy?

SAHLOUL: At this stage of the game, I think people are really not hopeful at all with what the opposition will do, or what the world will do. When I spoke with my parents last week, and I was telling them that hopefully we can have something out of this conference, you know, they were laughing and they said, we don't think so.

So, you know, because the fact that this has been going on for a long time, I don't think that the people of Homs expect much from the conference in Geneva, or from the opposition. And the situation over the past few days have been reaffirming, basically, their perception because, you know, there was a talk about giving some humanitarian assistance to the areas under siege in Homs, but it looks like this hope has disappeared completely.

MARTIN: Dr. Zaher Sahloul is the president of the Syrian-American Medical Society. He is originally from the city of Homs, in Syria. Thank you so much for speaking with us, Doctor.

SAHLOUL: Thank you, Rachel.

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MARTIN: You are listening to NPR News.

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