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Syrians return to damaged homes after rebles leave

HOMS, Syria (AP) - Hundreds of Syrians, some snapping photographs with their cell phones, wandered down paths carved out of rubble in the old quarters of Homs on Friday, getting their first glimpse of the horrendous destruction that two years of fighting inflicted on rebel-held parts of the city.

The scenes that greeted them were devastating: City blocks pounded into an apocalyptic vista of hollow facades of blown-out buildings. Dust everywhere. Streets strewn with rebar, shattered concrete bricks, toppled telephone poles and the occasional charred, crumpled carcasses of cars.

For more than a year, President Bashar Assad's troops blockaded these neighborhoods, pounding the rebel bastions with his artillery and air force. Under a deal struck this week, the government assumed control of the old quarters, while in return some 2,000 rebel fighters were granted safe passage to opposition areas north of Homs.

The final piece of the agreement fell into place Friday afternoon as the last 300 or so rebels left Homs after an aid convoy was allowed into two pro-government villages in northern Syria besieged by the opposition. The aid delivery was part of the Homs agreement.

The withdrawal was a major victory for the government in a conflict that has killed more than 150,000 people since March 2011. The deal handed Assad control of the city once known as "the capital of the revolution," as well as a geographic linchpin in central Syria from which to launch offensives on rebel-held territory in the north.

Even before the last rebels departed, government bulldozers were clearing paths through the heaviest rubble in Homs' battle-scarred districts Friday. It marked the first time that government troops have entered these neighborhoods - the last rebel bastions in the city - in more than a year.

Homs governor Talal Barazi said engineering units were combing Hamidiyeh and other parts of the old quarters in search of mines and other explosives. State TV said two soldiers were killed while dismantling a bomb.

The SANA state news agency reported that army troops discovered two field hospitals in the neighborhoods of Bab Houd and Qarabis, as well as a network of underground tunnels linking the districts to each other and to the countryside.

An Associated Press reporter on a military-led tour of Homs said soldiers and pro-government militiamen fanned out across the districts to provide security. In Hamadiyeh, a predominantly Christian neighborhood before the fighting caused residents to flee, people trickled back in to check on their properties.

Imad Nanaa, 52, returned to examine his home for the first time in almost three years. Miraculously, he found it almost intact, compared to other houses with shattered windows and crumbling walls.

Speaking nervously and hurriedly because he wanted to leave as quickly as possible, Nanaa said he was looking forward to coming back with his family as soon as the army allowed it.

"This deal has saved us from more blood and destruction," he said.

Later, hundreds of men, women and children - some in strollers - walked through parts of the eight-mile-long old quarters, flashing victory signs and taking pictures. Some men in the first group dashed inside, passing burned-out cars and heavily damaged buildings.

People returning were required to hand over their IDs to the troops upon entering the formerly rebel-held districts. The soldiers then returned the papers as the people filed out later.

One man walked out with a guitar under his arm. A woman emerged from her home carrying a stack of photo albums.

"I have nothing left for me to remember so I brought these photos," the woman, Fadia al-Ahmar, said. "My house was destroyed."

The staggering scale of destruction in the area spoke to the ferocity of the fighting.

In the Maljaa neighborhood, every building was damaged, even cars parked inside. An eight-story building was flattened into rubble. Shop fronts were pancaked. Walls of apartment blocks were blasted with holes from artillery and tank shells.

Back in Hamadiyeh, the historic St. Mary Church of the Holy Belt was heavily damaged, although the thick stone walls were still standing. There were no pews and some of the icons were disfigured. The Syriac Orthodox church's damaged bell lolled on the ground in the courtyard.

The Greek Orthodox bishop in Homs, George Abu Zakhm, told the AP that the situation there is "catastrophic." He said all 11 churches in Homs' old quarter have been either heavily damaged or destroyed.

He accused the rebels of lighting a fire inside the 6th century Greek Orthodox St. Elian Church, and said icons dating back hundreds of years "are still on the walls but they were blackened."

Islamic extremists among Syria's rebels have desecrated churches elsewhere in Syria, but there was no immediate evidence to suggest that opposition fighters were responsible for the damage to Christian sites in central Homs, where every building bore the scars of fighting.

Join the discussion

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z5catman May 10 2014 at 9:23 AM

Just another example of "Allah's Will",, Kind of remids you of the religious wars in Europe several hundred years ago. Guess history does repeat itself if you are backward enough to let it.

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1 reply
jelun z5catman May 10 2014 at 5:17 PM

Why not bring up the Christian militias in Africa?

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coopski1 May 09 2014 at 7:03 PM

There is nothing different about the people returning to their homes after the "rebels" left ...vs. before they got there. Theirs is a violent culture. Theirs is an ignorant culture. There will ALWAYS be violence and "genocide" and ignorance in that region of the world.
They love it. They seek it. Enough. Just let them wipe each other out. After this long ... it's been bred in. Time to let natural selection do it's thing.

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1 reply
Paul coopski1 May 09 2014 at 8:48 PM

We should get out of the Middle East all together and no more foreign aid either. This endless war in Afghanistan, Iraq and the rest of those crazy places. Why are we there anyway

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xht3811 May 09 2014 at 7:01 PM

Oh, Obamas War 200,000 Dead WAR CRIMINAL ARREST HIM

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1 reply
thirdsqurl xht3811 May 09 2014 at 9:08 PM

Hard to tell who the biggest morons are, the one who wrote this or the ones giving it a thumbs up. American education is falling through the floor.

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am0714 May 09 2014 at 6:45 PM

Your photo for this article is the answer to ALL of their problems, and ours too. The statue that that man is carrying (and all others like it) are responsible for all the deaths in all the wars.

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4 replies
gb0493bh May 09 2014 at 6:37 PM

HO HUM!! Who cares? These MORONS have been killing and slautering each other like mad dogs for over 2000 years! They will NEVER STOP until the last dog/swine is left standing. As ole John Wayne said: YOU CAN'T CURE STUPID,,,,,, and Forrest Gump replied,,, STUPID IS AS STUPID DOE'S!!!!

Americans should go home and stand back. Let the crazy's and nutty whackos kill each other off. The world will be a much better place.

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2 replies
xht3811 gb0493bh May 09 2014 at 7:20 PM

We did that before 9-11, they infiltrated under Clinton and attacked a few months into Bush

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aqsa_rashid gb0493bh May 09 2014 at 7:23 PM

you are a ignorant 12 year old watermelon

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1 reply
Bill Jochimsen aqsa_rashid May 09 2014 at 7:51 PM

"ignorance" is writing a sentence that includes … a ignorant

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lkfman May 09 2014 at 7:32 PM

Unbelievable!! These terrorists actually decided to use some sense and negotiate with President Assad!! I can think of other things that these terrorists deserve other than "free passage" but, unlike Obama, McCain, Kerry and the other lying Washington warmongers, thank you President Assad for being a man of your word.

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1 reply
Paul lkfman May 09 2014 at 8:42 PM

Assad also has a nice piece of wife and I wouldn't mind, oh never mind

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breezejd38 May 09 2014 at 6:35 PM

Did Barack Hussein Obama II, give them cell phones?

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piscitelli2 May 09 2014 at 6:27 PM

Let me break it down to some of you who are finding this mess entertaining. First imagine yourselves being ruled by a family for the past 40 years, and your country is being treated as this family's personal property, and one day you decide to rise up and ask for that to change, but the response was very insulting and degrading to the point where you felt nothing else matters in your life except for your dignity and freedom, and you kept demanding freedom until your protests became so annoying to your leader and his thugs stepped in to silence you forever, so you vowed not to bow to their threatening tactics and no longer be intimidated by anyone, then your leader and his clan realizes that you're now an educated citizen and you're no longer fooled by empty slogans or phony bravado speeches, and to hijack your dreams and aspirations, your regime allowed crazy religious fanatics to cross the borders into your country, and fight on behalf of your revolution to sabotage and destroy it.

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1 reply
tplaw piscitelli2 May 09 2014 at 6:42 PM

So Piscitelli2 these wonderful freedom people you speak about - can you tell me why they find it necessary to not only fight these horrible government forces, but to kill all of the Christians and their children that they can find? Christians who are just trying to live their own peaceful existence?
There are no good guys in the Syrian conflict. There are only more evil and not quite so evil people all seeking revenge, death, torture and destruction. It is a nightmare of their own making.

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spike May 09 2014 at 6:26 PM

Somebody want to enlighten me ,what they are trying to accomplish by this war?How do they like the results so far?

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1 reply
breezejd38 spike May 09 2014 at 6:35 PM

Muslims killing Muslims is a great and wonderful thing!

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guysemail May 09 2014 at 6:22 PM

Really, "but there was no immediate evidence to suggest that opposition fighters were responsible for the damage to Christian sites in central Homs," is that supposed to be a joke? It would seem intuitive that the churches that have been standing for centuries have now been burned out and damaged in those areas that were controlled by the Islamic rebels for the last two years would give you a clue. But I understand AP writers. If you wrote the truth there is a good chance that you would beheaded by the fair and impartial Islamic rebels next time you were in their neighborhood. They are great supporters of the free press. Just ask Daniel Pearl.

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