As Syrians flee Homs, sectarian faultlines deepen

February 23, 2012

(A damaged house is seen in the Bab Sabaa neighbourhood of Homs in this handout picture taken by Syrian National Council (SNC) member Moulhem Al-Jundi February 19, 2012.REUTERS/Moulhem Al-Jundi/Handout)

It started a few months ago with neighbours’ suspicious looks, then came the threats. Their car was smashed and their front door was painted over with sectarian slurs.

That was when the landlord said it was time for Khaled’s Sunni Muslim family to leave the mainly Alawite district of Karam al-Louz in Homs, a city where communal ties have been ripped apart after 11 months of revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“When we fled we were treated like criminals,” said Khaled, whose impoverished family of seven had lived in the neighbourhood for 15 years, until last month. “Homs is a victim of Syria’s revolution.”

Even before government forces began an artillery onslaught on Homs’ Sunni Muslim areas nearly three weeks ago to try to crush the opposition, the city had been splintering along sectarian lines. Some fear this could foreshadow civil war.

Bombardment, killings and kidnappings have fuelled anger and fear among majority Sunni Muslims and minority Alawites, pushing residents to flee to refuge among their own sects.

Aid workers say they have no idea how many Syrians in turmoil-hit areas like Homs have been internally displaced. Residents of Homs, a city of one million, estimate the number is in the thousands.

Those who can afford it leave for the capital Damascus. But most are like Khaled and his brothers who scrape together an income as house painters and cab drivers. They flee to nearby villages or neighbourhoods of their sect.

Read the full story by Erika Solomon here.
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