By Marah Mashi
Qusayr, (Al-AKhbar): Everything changed on Wednesday morning as news from Qusayr resounded with talk of a Syrian army victory. Free Syrian Army soldiers, who were preparing for a violent battle, could not believe how easy the last battle would be, after all their sacrifices. Now, Qusayr seems like a link in a chain that has quickly dissolved.
“They ran away. Qusayr has fallen,” says an army soldier, almost in disbelief. Qusayr was no mere battle; it was a harsh war that took with it social bonds. It reached a level of difficulty on the ground that made it difficult for many to speak these words.
“For one year and a half, the day you came here, this is the best day,” a soldier, inside the building of the so-called Islamic Military Court says with passionate joy. He swears on his honor about how he feels. The soldiers look different and the atmosphere has changed: joking, firing rounds of joy, speaking to journalists, and even taking photos as mementos.
The same soldier who would have chided journalists for taking pictures stands in the middle of Qusayr’s al-Saa square and smiles. News has leaked from Damascus and Lebanon that people are celebrating and distributing sweets and the soldiers become even more excited.
Fighters’ Destination Unknown
Deciding to wake up early to cover the start of the military operation against Qusayr was useless. By morning, the city had fallen after the entire military mobilized to flank Qusayr and Dabaa. However, the battle was decided within a few hours, with the opposition fighters fleeing to other areas.
Some military sources inferred that the majority escaped to the villages of Bouaida, Dabaa, and Masoudieh to wait for reinforcements.
Other military sources predicted that the some of the fighters would head to Qalamoun in the Damascus countryside, meaning that military operations over there should complement the Qusayr victory to make it final. Yet other sources said that the fighters fled towards Ersal in Lebanon.
The soldiers differed on this point. One of them said the road to Ersal has been blocked since the beginning of the Qusayr operations. His colleague disagreed, saying the route between the town and its border is difficult to control. People can hide in the mountain slopes due to the rugged terrain.
The Long Road to Victory
This morning, Ghassanieh road seemed to be the best option to reach what loyalists are calling “Victory Day in Qusayr.” Passing by Arjoun raises questions about the exaggerated destruction and makes the passengers feel that they missed something.
“How necessary is it to raze these homes to the ground?” The reply by a Syrian soldier in the town would make you stop asking. “Did you fight in our place and experience what we did?” One cannot put oneself in the shoes of the Syrian army in its war against the armed rebels. The battle has its own laws that might not conform with the morals of observers.
Each according to political affiliation; loyalists exaggerate the justification and opponents exaggerate their attacks.
Regime opponents accuse their counterparts of stealing metal wires from electrical lines and looting the homes. While on the frontlines, one can only see soldiers hanging to their lives and heavy armor.
In the village of Hamidiyeh, which was taken by the Syrian army a few days ago, the packed small houses seem strange. They should be rural homes with wide spaces between them. The adjacent homes are now divided by holes in the war. Some of the mud huts and walls have become barricades.
The mosque is pocked with bullet holes since it was the center of operations and its minaret, overlooking the surrounding area, was occupied by a sniper. The sniper is now a terrifying memory, but the soldiers drive by without precaution.
However, a soldier in the town maintained that he saw that a large section of the fighters in Qusayr were from the area. They did not join al-Nusra Front for religious purposes, since many do not care about this. They went to war out of ignorance and miscalculation.
In Hamidiyeh the graffiti is more illustrative. “As Our Martyrs Increase So Will Our Resilience,” it reads. So it is a war of attrition between both sides where each side thirsts for more victims.
The situation in Safsaf is different. The border town did not suffer destruction. Some of the houses have traces of bullets and shells, but the civilians seem to have remained. They did not leave their homes despite all the threats. They embraced the Syrian army, enjoyed its protection, and awaited the moment of victory in Qusayr and its countryside.
Life in the village is normal. Cows are grazing in green pastures between the trees, unconcerned with the passing military convoys.
The road to “victory” is very long. This is the impression one gets on the way to Qusayr, especially since it took the Syrian army more than a year to make it safe. Reaching Nahriyeh and Abou-Houri is a reminder of other battles. The soldiers agree that Nahriyeh is one of the most beautiful villages in the Qusayr countryside, hosting the first celebrations of victory.
Who Does God Stand With?
Arriving to al-Saa Square in Qusayr is overwhelming. Fully-equipped soldiers gather around and the noise of celebratory gunfire is deafening. For a moment, it seems as many bullets were fired in celebration as in the battle.
Some officers try to stop the celebratory gunfire, but they know the soldiers are tired and should be allowed to celebrate their achievement. But the joyous atmosphere among this ruin is unsettling.
The following victory will be Aleppo, one officer declares. “We should secure some pockets and tighten our grip on the Homs countryside,” another comments. However, the soldiers do not seem to care about the next destination. They care for this victory and are ready to go anywhere. One removes the flag of the Fajr al-Islam Brigade that hangs on the clock tower, and replaces it with the Syrian flag.
On one corner stands the Islamic Military Court with the phrase, “Prayer. Do not despair, God is with us.” But the prayer did not help and “God is with us” was a phrase also repeated by soldiers from the other side.
Regardless of who God is really with, al-Nusra Front is now outside Qusayr. Inside, the flag of the revolution covers the sign announcing the City of Qusayr on the wall. Other phrases say “Embrace God and God will embrace your and support your legs,” and “Our Leader Forever Prophet Mohammad.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.