The Missing Men of Homs

by PATRICK COCKBURN

Damascus.

The fate of dozens of men detained by the Syrian security forces as they left the besieged city of Homs is continuing to cause international concern. Some 190 are being held in a school while 111 have been questioned and released according to Talal Barazi, the governor of Homs.

The UN gives a higher figure of 336 men and boys detained and 41 released while others are being questioned under the “general monitoring” of UN staff. Robert Colville, the UN human rights office spokesman, said “it is essential they do not come to any harm.”

It was always unclear what would happen to men of military age, under 55 but over 15, under the UN-brokered agreement whereby civilians are leaving Homs and aid is going in. In theory Syrian fighters who give up their weapons would be pardoned and released but it is not clear that this is in fact happening. The treatment of non-Syrian fighters in Homs was similarly not spelled out nor a clear distinction made between men who had been fighting and those who had not.

The Foreign Secretary William Hague called it “outrageous” that evacuees were being detained. “We need answers urgently about what is happening to them”, he told The Independent.

The Syrian government said that screening had to take place to weed out “terrorists”, a term used by the government to describe all its opponents. It is in the government’s interest to see an end to the siege of Homs, which is the focus of international attention, but its day-to-day control of different sections of the Mukhabarat (secret police) has always been shaky. Units of the National Defence Force (NDF) pro-government militia, often drawn from the Alawite sect, appear to be opposed to the present agreement in Homs and may be responsible for shooting at UN aid vehicles over the weekend.

The deep distrust between government and opposition is making it very difficult to mediate any agreement. The government is not going to give up its siege of the Old City and does not want fighters who have not surrendered to benefit from aid supplies. Rebels will not want to lay down their arms if they expect to be imprisoned, tortured or shot.

Many other areas are besieged or blockaded in Syria, including some by the opposition in the north. The government is short of combat troops to storm rebel-held districts and normally surrounds them with a ring of checkpoints curtailing or stopping people leaving or entering.

The Syrian army and Hezbollah are reported to be planning to attack the town of Yabroud just west of the Damascus-Homs road. Hitherto Yabroud has been held by Jabhat al-Nusra and other rebel brigades and the town still contains many Christians who have reached an accommodation with the opposition. The government is keen to increase its control over the Qalamoun mountains on the Syrian-Lebanese border, not least because it wants to starve rebels in the greater Damascus region of supplies.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of  Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Geoffrey McDonald
Obama’s Overtime Tweak: What is the Fair Price of a Missed Life?
Brian Cloughley
Hypocrisy, Obama-Style
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
A Day of Tears: Report from the “sHell No!” Action in Portland
Tom Clifford
Guns of August: the Gulf War Revisited
Renee Lovelace
I Dream of Ghana
Colin Todhunter
GMOs: Where Does Science Begin and Lobbying End?
Ben Debney
Modern Newspeak Dictionary, pt. II
Christopher Brauchli
Guns Don’t Kill People, Immigrants Do and Other Congressional Words of Wisdom
S. Mubashir Noor
India’s UNSC Endgame
Norman Ball
Ten Questions for Lee Drutman: Author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”
Masturah Alatas
Six Critics in Search of an Author
Mark Hand
Cinéma Engagé: Filmmaker Chronicles Texas Fracking Wars
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Patrick Hiller
The Icebreaker and #ShellNo: How Activists Determine the Course
Charles Larson
Tango Bends Its Gender: Carolina De Robertis’s “The Gods of Tango”
July 30, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
How One Safari Nut, the CIA and Neoliberal Environmentalists Plotted to Destroy Mozambique
Bill Blunden
The NSA’s 9/11 Cover-Up: General Hayden Told a Lie, and It’s a Whopper