The Sheikh urges me to leave the city
The officer brings up an issue which was taboo in the Syrian opposition for a long time – a foreign military intervention. “What differentiates us from Benghazi, from Libya?” the officer asks, referring to the imposition of the UN-backed, NATO-led no-fly zone over Libya this year. He appeals to the West to send military advisors and weapons to Syria. He wants a no-fly zone over Homs. That's something everyone here seems in favor of – the Sheikh, the three protest coordinators I met the previous day and even the level-headed Ahmed. They all agree that NATO must do something for Homs. They say they're aware of the consequences. NATO, they say, must carry out massive bombing campaigns and destroy everything that can be even remotely dangerous for the dissidents. Just like in Libya. Large parts of the army would then join the opposition. According to them, Syrian opposition groups abroad have made a mistake by ruling out the possibility of a military intervention by the West. “They all sleep safely in their beds,” the Sheikh says. It's not clear to them just how dramatic the situation in the city has become, he says before repeating: “We request NATO help us!”
The tanks that set out for Homs in the morning now threaten to encircle the city. The Sheikh urges me to leave the city in the night before the escape routes are blocked. I return to Faten's kitchen table. Ahmed has met in the afternoon with local politicians with whom he wants to set up a party. The men have already written a large part of the new party platform. “It's very social democratic,” Ahmed says and grins. He's exhilarated. Across the country, opposition groups are trying to form a national interim council much like the one set up by rebels in Libya, Ahmed says. That would provide a coherent opposition representative to deal with the West. It's the second attempt to establish an interim council. The first failed after almost all the opposition members were arrested.
“Shouldn't we also go?” Faten asks in the evening as Ahmed gets ready to drive me out of the city. “Is it better to leave Homs? Or is it more important to stay here?” she says, crying as she loses her carefully constructed composure. Faten would like to go to her sister in Damascus but Mazen wants to stay. Leaving would amount to a betrayal of his dead friends. While his father was busy discussing rules for the new party in the afternoon, Mazen was on the rooftop firing his new gun for the first time.
The indiscriminate killings begin unusually early this evening. “What do I do now?” Ahmed asks, his hands on the steering wheel as shots ring out around us. He's reached the main road in his car. The demonstrations haven't begun yet. On either side of the street, young men stroll to the mosque. Suddenly they head for cover behind fences and in entrance ways. From our car we see hundreds of uniformed troops running, stopping, cocking their rifles and shooting. Then they begin running again. “Stay calm,” Ahmed says, more to himself than to me. He turns into a side street and hopes that it's safer there. Ahmed got his car back from the repair shop just two days ago. But by now, bullets have pockmarked the fenders and the back doors. In the side street, other cars too are carefully inching forward. The drivers roll down their windows and give each other advice on how best they can skirt the danger.
Faten calls Ahmed on his mobile phone to say Mazen is in the midst of the demonstrations. Ahmed groans and fights off the temptation to call up his son. He's worried he could distract Mazen at the wrong time. He turns right one more time and then again and suddenly we're directly behind the security forces. Six of their buses are blocking the three-lane road. Armed soldiers get in and out in groups. Traffic is jammed behind the convoy, shots are fired in front of it. There are heavy booms and the rattle of sporadic machine gun fire. The buses stop for a few minutes and then determinedly roll onward. Ahmed drums his fingers on the steering wheel. A soldier at the rear end of a bus suddenly points at me. Three others do the same. But luckily the convoy reaches an intersection and Ahmed turns off.
Four people are killed that evening and 40 are injured. Mazen will stay in the hospital all night to protect the wounded. Young men now want to get out the weapons hidden away in the neighborhoods. A secret committee of the Syrian opposition arrives from the capital Damascus. They stay for 15 hours, speak with various groups in several districts. The time isn't ripe yet, they say, and warn that the dissidents are still too weak militarily to take on the much stronger regime. The proponents of a peaceful opposition get their way – once again.
The next day, thousands of people take to the streets again in Homs. They're armed with nothing more than their mobile phones.
Translated from German by Sonia Phalnikar.