The Syrian city of Homs is slowly returning to relative normalcy after earning a reputation as a violent center of militancy and resistance to President Bashar Assad’s government in the nation’s ongoing civil war, RT’s Maria Finoshina reports.
Negotiations between Syrian officials and opposition forces have resulted in a revival of life in Homs, as those who fled the brutality of war return to their home city, which is no longer riddled with shelling or bombings.
“We are fine here, I just came back from the market,” one Homs woman told RT. “We are good, thank God.”
Hundreds of young fighters are now seeking reintegration into life away from the violence encouraged by those who fomented rebellion against Assad’s forces, one police official said.
“Most of them are young people who got influenced by fanatic sheikhs and Islamic clerics who had the extremist ideology that is alien to Syrian society,” a Syrian police major who preferred to remain anonymous told RT. “They motivated them by money that came from Gulf countries mostly. And all this was supported by Western and Israeli intelligence. We need to help our guys who became victims of all this.”
A year prior, the major – who was part of the peace negotiations in Homs – was shot by rebels, leaving him disabled. From a rehabilitation center for ex-militants, he calls for forgiveness.
Around 1,200 ex-fighters were brought to a nearby school following their surrender. They are aided by university teachers and religious leaders whose families suffered during the war, but who now dedicate time to reintegrating militants.
Most of the ex-fighters at the school say they were forced to take up arms, and all deny that they have ever killed anyone.
“They used to give us lessons to explain to us that the regime is, infidels, that the regime is attacking Muslims and we have to fight them,” explained Hamzeh Al Reefii, a former insurgent.
Reefi told RT that he had just participated in the first Syrian presidential election in decades, saying he cast his vote for Assad – his enemy just weeks ago.
“Syrian reconciliation is Assad’s initiative,” he said. “He wants to rebuild peace and the city.”
As part of the rehab program, the 22-year-old could be sent to serve in the Syrian army.
“There is no way that I will kill any of my brothers by religion,” he said. “I won’t kill my former brothers in arms. I do not want to kill or hurt anybody at all.”
The reconciliation program aims to encourage other militants still resisting Assad’s forces to lay down their arms.
“Al Waiir remains the only district in the city of Homs still held by the rebels,” Finoshina reports. “The officials say there are no less than 3,000, and the army is here nearby and also surrounding the area, ready for an operation at any moment. But there are civilians there, too.”
Though total peace is still a long way off, Finoshina said that hopes are high today that Syria is on the right track.