Drawing from interviews with refugees, Ana Maria Luca of NOWSyria tells the story of how the town of Qara (pop: 30,000), on the Damascus-to-Homs road, fell to the Syrian military this week:
The inhabitants of Deir Attieh, a pro-regime village located approximately three kilometers away, let in the army and the Hezbollah fighters sent to confront the rebels. Qara at first avoided bombing and shelling as people made deals with the commanders of the checkpoints. They gave them food, money, even sheep. In return, the shelling strategically targeted the fields outside town.
But two weeks ago, Um Chehab [one of the refugees] knew it was the beginning of the end for Qara. On November 7, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) gained control of the Mouheen weapons depots located 100 kilometers north of Damascus, which contained mortar bombs, artillery and tank ammunition, and rockets. “Those weapons made the rebels much stronger, God be praised. And the shabiha and the army now want to make sure that they cut all the roads to keep those weapons from reaching Qalamoun,” she says passionately….
Like many of the people in Qara, Umm Chehab says she did not believe the regime’s promises: that they would leave Qara alone, that the only thing they wanted to do is put the regime’s flag in the middle of the town and parade TV crews to show their easy victory. “They wanted much more than that: they wanted the people to turn in all army defectors, all the weapons, all the activists. Would you do that? Would you turn in your brother, your cousins, your neighbors? Who would do such a thing? They would have slaughtered us all.”
Luca continues with a quote from Ahmad Fleeti, the Vice-President of the Lebanese town of Arsal to which refugees have fled:
Part of the people, especially the leaders, thought they had a chance to save the town from becoming a war theater. The regime wanted a victory, a parade for the TV stations, they wanted to keep Qara safe. But it didn’t work, as people simply did not agree with the regime’s conditions. Therefore, they shelled the town.
And what about the insurgents who were defending Qara?
The rebels gave up Qara easily. “Unfortunately Liwa al-Islam withdrew quickly from Qara,” Abu Mohammad, another Syrian activist, told NOW. “They only fought for a day and then vanished.” The reason was that Qara was not a strong rebel position, especially since the roads had been cut for some time. Maaloulah and Rankous are better strongholds in Qalamoun, Abu Mohammad said, and those will not fall as easily as Qara. The Syrian army is not trained to fight in the mountains, so they use Hezbollah fighters experienced in fighting Israel in South Lebanon.