A Small Farming Town Becomes Ground Zero In Syria's War

Syrian soldiers stand in the main square of the western city of Qusair. Government troops recaptured the town on Wednesday after rebels had held it for more than a year. It's seen as a significant victory for President Bashar Assad's government. i i

Syrian soldiers stand in the main square of the western city of Qusair. Government troops recaptured the town on Wednesday after rebels had held it for more than a year. It's seen as a significant victory for President Bashar Assad's government. STR/AFP/Getty images hide caption

itoggle caption STR/AFP/Getty images
Syrian soldiers stand in the main square of the western city of Qusair. Government troops recaptured the town on Wednesday after rebels had held it for more than a year. It's seen as a significant victory for President Bashar Assad's government.

Syrian soldiers stand in the main square of the western city of Qusair. Government troops recaptured the town on Wednesday after rebels had held it for more than a year. It's seen as a significant victory for President Bashar Assad's government.

STR/AFP/Getty images

Qusair is a sleepy farming town not far from my hometown. I passed through it many times as a child and never imagined it would one day make international headlines as the focal point of Syria's civil war.

I wish it had remained a quiet place defined by the many agricultural fields of wheat and barley, along with apricot and apple trees, all of them well-watered by the Orontes River.

Less than 10 miles from the Lebanese border, Qusair was a mixed town of Christians, Sunnis and Shiites. Not anymore.

Most Christians left last year when the battles started. They headed to other Christian villages surrounding Homs. Christian traders emptied their stores and took their supplies as they headed to these towns.

It turns out they were the lucky ones. They had places that welcomed them and that had not yet been destroyed by the fighting.

However, most Sunni villages in the area have been leveled. Many people traveling from Homs to Lebanon would talk about a war landscape, about whole towns turned into rubble. Qusair has now joined the list.

Syrian state television showed footage Wednesday of the main square in Qusair with its clock tower badly damaged. One military commander said people are happy that Qusair has fallen, though few civilians remain.

A Regional Conflict

The opposition had a different perspective.

"To the rebels of Qusair, you should be proud. You did not fight an army, you fought states," one activist wrote in a reference to Lebanon's Hezbollah fighters, who took part in the battle, and the military support the Syrian army is getting from Russia and Iran.

"It is not true anymore that in Syria we have two sides fighting each other. Now we have entered a phase where we can openly speak about foreign, direct involvement with Hezbollah and Iran's support," says Omar Shaker, an activist from Homs who is now based in Lebanon.

According to Burhan Ghalioun, a Syrian opposition leader, Qusair opens a new chapter and has turned Syria into a regional war.

"The rebels were forced to withdraw because it has become a regional and international conflict, and the rebels do not have the equipment to face Iran and Russia," he said. He called on the rebels "not to try to hold territories but to spread out and go back to unexpected attacks of government positions."

Hadi Alabdalla, another opposition activist, appeared in a YouTube video from a makeshift hospital in Qusair where he said conditions were dire.

"Every day we are trying to get them out," he said. "Not one international organization reached out to us."

Based on footage from Syrian state television, most of Qusair's 45,000 residents have fled, leaving it a virtual ghost town.

"It is not time to cry now," one activist wrote from from the nearby village of Buwayda. "There are more than 1,000 wounded in besieged Buwayda and more than 15,000 civilians. Do something."

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