Right after Syrian rebels left the country’s most civil war-wracked city of Homs on Saturday, its residents filed back in to search for something, anything, to remind them of home.
The government reached an agreement last week that led to about 2,000 rebels leaving Homs, opening the door to several thousand residents and business owners to move back in.
“It’s not much, just a few small things,” resident Rafi Sepechian told the Los Angeles Times, while he and his wife salvaged the few pieces of furniture that remained of their Homs home. “It’s badly damaged, but we plan to rebuild. We love our home.”
According to the United Nations, warring jihadi factions have been at war in Syria since March 2011. On August 21, 2013, the government’s increasingly violent response to terror attacks drew world attention when it used chemical weapons against its own population outside of Damascus.
But nowhere has the fighting been more intense than in Homs. Just a few weeks ago, on April 29, car bombs exploded all over Homs, killing dozens of remaining residents, though the city by then was under government control. Jabhat al-Nusra, Islamic militants who oppose the Syrian government, took responsibility for the blasts.
Though rebels have left Homs, no one expects the fighting to be finished. After all, the UN Security Council passed a resolution early this year telling all warring parties in Syria to stop blowing things up in populated areas.
According to Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for Human Rights Watch: “The UN Security Council orders all sides in Syria to stop attacking civilians and the attacks just keep on coming. The Security Council needs to make clear it means business by imposing sanctions and referring the Syrian situation to the International Criminal Court.”
Some hold out hope, though, that the worst days are over. Christians boast of a sizable population in Homs, also known as Old City. They gathered for a celebration mass in their damaged-but-not-felled Our Lady of the Belt Syriac Orthodox Church on Sunday.
“I know there is damage,” said congregant Sawsan Hanoon, 40, “but this is the happiest moment in my life, to be back in the church where I was baptized and my son was baptized. We will rebuild it with our own hands.”
At a nearby mosque, a woman told the LA Times that it was “confusing and troubling” to see her mosque and her neighborhood razed by her own government’s artillery.
“We in Homs are fed up with war,” she said. “I wish we could all shake hands and go back to where we were before. But it’s not so easy.”
The UN estimates that more than 100,000 residents of Syria have died since fighting began, with millions more thought to have fled to neighboring countries as refugees.
[Image courtesy of the UN]