Mulham al-Jundi, the youngest member of Syrian National Council, the country's main opposition bloc, is currently roaming the streets of Homs to record what he says are “the crimes of the Syrian regime” in his hometown.
The 26-year-old engineer decided to take an indefinite leave of absence from his company in the Saudi city of Jeddah and smuggle himself and his camera into what has become one of the world’s most dangerous cities to snap photos of the damage caused by the government’s crackdown.
The central city of Homs, dubbed the capital of the Syrian revolution, has experienced the most deaths since the uprising began almost a year ago. Activists say that more than 2,500 people died in the city.
Residents face shortages of water, food and electricity. Communication with the city is difficult as landlines, mobile phones and internet have been cut for weeks now.
On Friday, the UN Secretary-General criticised the "atrocious" assault on Homs by government forces and said that that his organisation continued “to receive grisly reports of summary executions, arbitrary detentions and torture".
Jundi, who arrived in Homs on February 16, spoke to Al Jazeera about his experiences in the city. He told us how Homs residents live amid the constant shelling by government forces and under the gunfire of snipers situated on the roofs of buildings across the city.
He also sent Al Jazeera some of the photos he snapped during his stay there.
Q: Why did you go to Homs?
A: I have been working for the Syrian revolution from abroad since it first started. But I felt the need to be here in order to be more efficient. The people in Homs need a lot of support especially on the media front. After Danny abdul Dayem [an English speaking activist] left Homs, there was a shortage of those who can tell the world what is going on in the city. I also wanted to help with the relief efforts as I have experience working with NGOs.
Those days I spent here are more important than all the months I was working for the revolution from abroad. I saw it all and experienced it all. I saw the shelling, the damage, and the snipers. I went out on protests. I was injured by the bullet of a sniper. I really experienced Homs.
Q: What is Homs like for local residents who cannot easily leave?
A: More than 70 per cent of the people never leave home. Women do not leave at all because of the new trends of kidnapping. Children stopped going to schools. They may play for a bit in front of their homes, but that is even too dangerous because of the presence of snipers that would shoot at anything moving.
|Jundi, 26, decided to take an unlimited holiday from his company to document 'crimes' in his hometown
Around 80 per cent of the shops are closed. Clothes shops and restaurants have been closed for more than a month now. Only grocery shops and vegetable markets are open. People no longer go to their offices. Some just go there as a gathering space to meet up with friends in the morning. But there is no income whatsoever.
How are people in Homs supporting each other through the siege?
A: Those who had savings are already spending them. Residents are really trying hard to save as much as possible. Families for example are staying in one room to save heating costs.
A lot of residents complain the aid money that is coming from outside is not reaching Homs, is not reaching those in need. But I think that money is supporting 70 per cent of the families and without the aid from outside people would have died from hunger.
Q: What are some local initiatives residents in Homs are taking to support each other?
A: Since people do not go to work or school, most are involving themselves in local committees and creating small charities to support each other. These initiatives are great but many have proved to be inefficient for several reasons.
First, there is the lack of understanding of how NGOs work. Homs never had NGOs before and so there is a lot of mismanagement when it comes to dealing with and distributing the aid.
Secondly, there is the lack of communication among people. There are no landlines and mobile phones most of the time. Internet is not functioning and those who have satellite phones or satellite modems are numbered. So it is very difficult to co-ordinate efforts.
Moreover, there is the lack of trust among people. Imagine if someone told me ‘let us meet I want to donate money’. How do I know that this person is not setting me up so that I get arrested? He may well be honest but could be followed by the intelligence services. So a lot of time and effort is wasted on just determining who is trustworthy and who is not.
Q: Where have you been in Homs? Are there safe areas there?
A: I have been to several neighbourhoods, including Bab Sibaa, Bab Dreib, Bayyada, Khaldiyeh, and Qarabees. Going to other areas- including to where my home is- is suicidal. There are snipers everywhere. They shoot all the time especially at night with the mere aim of terrorising families.
The safest areas are those controlled by the Free Syrian Army [the armed opposition] and in little alleys that tanks cannot reach into.
Of course there is sporadic shelling in the areas I have been to and in the neighbourhood of Bab Amr, the constant shelling has become a fact of life.
Q: You are a member of the Syrian National Council. The group has been criticised for its perceived slowness in responding to the humanitarian crisis. Do you think this is fair criticism? And how popular is the SNC in Homs?
A: This is a fair criticism. People here are being shelled every day. They are dying on a daily basis. They have the right to ask ‘where is the SNC?’ The SNC had declared Homs to be a “disaster area”a few months ago. They may have thought this was enough. Obviously this wasn’t. The communication department of the SNC is one of the weakest in the group.
|Jundi says his efforts in Syria for days has proved to be more effective than months of activism from outside it
Unfortunately, the SNC is plagued with mismanagement and with the fact that its members have very different views. This has made them very slow. Imagine that since my arrival to Homs, only one or two of its members got in touch with me and on a personal level, even after news emerged regarding my injury.
Needless to say, residents here still see the SNC as the main opposition front. They still feel they need to rally behind it and support it.
Q: Is the Free Syrian Army, the armed opposition, popular? Or do some people see it as the reason for the government’s heavy crackdown on the city?
A: People in Homs love the Free Syrian Army. I have never heard anyone complain about them or say that they were the reason for anything negative in the city. On the contrary, they feel very safe in areas controlled by the FSA. Some people would sacrifice their share of food and water to give them to the FSA.
Q: What do people of Homs want from the international community?
A: They want safe corridors for the delivery of aid first of all. They want an international intervention to stop the massacres. Some are even calling for airstrikes on key military sites. They don’t care who intervenes as long as they can stop the crimes committed against them by Bashar al-Assad.