Our source for this report is Sami al-Rifaie who, by his own account, is an activist and citizen-journalist who lives in Qusayr. Qusayr is a city in the mountains of western Syria that overlooks the Lebanese border. Sami al-Rifaie is not his real name. Sami last wrote about a childhood friend who escaped from Syria with his family.
The Syrian government restricts independent reporting within the country, so we invite Syrians on both sides of the conflict to tell the world how they cope with street violence, human tragedies, political chaos and economic loss in their daily lives. Syria Witness reports cannot be independently verified and, for personal safety reasons, some contributors do not use their real names. Texts are edited for clarity and style, but no changes to content are made.
By Sami in Qusayr, October 19, 2102
Since last May, the government shelling of Qusayr has become more fierce. My city is being fiercely pounded by government artillery every day now.
In the past, we might have one or two days in a row when there would be no pounding sound, the thunder of exploding cannon fire, the shattering of buildings and crumbling balconies, stone and cement. There would be silence. But for the last five months, the pounding has not stopped.
… we would not hear the sound of rocket till it hit its target, while we distinctly heard the sound of mortar and tank shell when it was fired and when it landed on the ground – Sami al-Rifaie
Since then, I can barely remember a day when there was no shelling. The intensity of shelling varies from day to day; sometimes it is very fierce and continuous but other times, it is less fierce and intermittent.
The kinds of shells and rockets and the way they reached our home have varied and changed since the crackdowns against the protests began 18 months ago.
When the tanks arrived in Qusayr
At first, the regime military and the less disciplined militias that came with them used heavy machine guns and they sometimes arrived in the armored infantry fighting vehicles, the treaded BMP vehicles.
Back then, Assad sent in the tanks that were used just to scare people, but then the government used the tanks – along with mortars and heavy artillery – to shoot shells at civilian homes.
Next, rockets were deployed and we could quite distinguish between the different sounds of shells and rockets as we would not hear the sound of rocket till it hit its target, while we distinctly heard the sound of mortar and tank shell when it was fired and when it landed on the ground.
After that, helicopters would hover above the city surveying the area and sometimes randomly firing rockets.
For the last five weeks or so, regime forces have been relying mostly on helicopters and MiG jets, firing rockets and dropping barrel bombs and recently cluster bombs that deliver a much more massive scale of destruction.
When we hear the sound of a helicopter hovering above our heads, my friends run to the rooftop of the house to film the helicopter, or the MiG jet.
Catching a helicopter on camera no longer grabs the attention it used to, so we try to film a Assad’s fighter jets in the act of dropping bombs or firing rockets. Sometimes we succeed.
Video purportedly showing a MiG firing rockets into Qusayr
Video purportedly showing a regime helicopter brief seconds after dropping two barrels bombs on Qusayr
We no longer are as scared, but brothers die
At first, we could not sleep when they were shelling the neighborhoods, but now we somehow adapted ourselves to it. We still get scared and worried when shelling begins but not as much as before.
Public servants can no longer go to work for fear of being killed or arrested by regime forces. University students cannot go to Homs University either – Sami al-Rifaie
If we did not adapt to the shelling, we would go crazy for sure! We cannot let shelling stop us from doing what we are supposed to do. When foreign journalists come here, they just cannot believe how we have grown somehow immune to the sounds of shells falling around us.
We have all lost people dear to us during this 18-month struggle. Two of the activists I work with have lost younger brothers who had joined the Free Syrian Army fighters. Others, too, have lost friends or relatives.
Most civilians’ lives have changed for the worse ever since the start of the regime’s crackdown on protests. Public servants can no longer go to work for fear of being killed or arrested by regime forces. University students cannot go to Homs University either because regime and security forces are scattered along the road to Homs.
Even if the road was safe, most civilians have come to realize that now is a time of war and that our priority now is easing Assad out of the country. Hopefully, all will be well afterwards.
Every day, we hear about the death or injury of someone we know. Even if there are no new martyrs in Qusayr on one day, we know that there are martyrs in other communities around us. This gives us incentive to continue the work we do and to make sure the sacrifice of their lives was not in vain.
Middle East Voices welcomes your comments on this story from the streets of Qusayr
Tweets celebrate FSA victories in Qusayr
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David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.