Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. There was another spike in the violence today Syria. Government security forces are reported to have fired, once again, on protestors. Activists say several people were killed including at least two children. A lot of the violence took place in Homs — the city that's emerged as the hub of the protests against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, and there's concern that the Syrian government is preparing an assault on Homs to try and suppress the revolt. It's hard to say exactly what's happening in the city. The government doesn't allow international journalists to cover the protests and many activists in Homs won't speak for fear of attracting government reprisals. Today, Homs activist, Omar Telawi, is making an exception. He is speaking with from Homs via Skype. We'll be hearing his thoughts through an interpreter who has asked us not to use his name for security reasons. I greatly appreciate both of you joining us. Omar, please tell me a little bit about your own experience since the uprising began. How did you get involved and what has happened to you?
Omar Telawi: [Speaking Arabic].
Interpreter: I was at school and I had to leave school because my dad wasn't able to afford any of the bills and it was really tough, our life, financially, and my dad is the only person for paying all the bills, and I had to leave school and help the family, and just before the uprising, then I saw what happened in Daraa, where the whole story began with a bunch of kids writing on the wall about the president and whatever they were writing and what happened to their family and their moms and then their dads, and actually I felt really bad and I talked to a bunch of friends who were like, "Alright, we need to just gather together and just go down and support them just to show them some support," and we're about a hundred people and that was the first time, the first Friday, there were people, protestor in Homs and I was just stunned with the thugs and security forces and policemen all over the place. The thugs or the "Shabiha", which are the security forces and they're thugs, started hitting us and hitting everyone and all we were saying is, we were saying, "God, Syria, Freedom. Daraa, we are with you. We'll never forget about you. God, Syria, Freedom" And they were just getting brutally treated and hit by the thugs that were carrying a lot of guns and a lot of sticks, and then they started throwing tear gas. They threw more than fifteen tear bombs at us, and then I started looking all over the street. There were blood and people just laying on the ground. So that was pretty painful.
Werman: Now just to clarify, Daraa is where the first protest in started and then it spread to Homs and across the country.
Interpreter: That is correct. Yes, it is.
Werman: And what month was that?
Telawi: [Speaking Arabic]
Werman: That was in March?
Interpreter: March 15th.
Werman: Have you been attacked personally, Omar?
Telawi: [Speaking Arabic].
Interpreter: Yes, I was attacked three times and my house and my store were broken into about nineteen times. I would like to just explain to you that there were two actual life kidnapping tries by the thugs and security forces. That they actually tried to kidnap me and arrest me and God knows what's going to happen to me, and one time they were about two meters away from me and I was with a couple of my friends and they shot all of us. The two other people got killed, but myself, I got hit in the arm and in my finger as well, but two people were shot dead with me at that time.
Werman: Is it dangerous for you, Omar, to be speaking with us right now?
Telawi: [Speaking Arabic].
Interpreter: No, I don't think it's dangerous. Everyone knows about me right now. The government knows about me and they tried to kidnap me two twice and they tried to kill me a few times. So pretty much I lost the fear. I'm fearless and I have more than ten people with me right now who are organizing with me, organizing the protests and what we need to do and setting up the cameras and all the security we're having in Bab Sba'a, in our neighborhood, to keep it safe, and because we're not present there all the time, we set all these cameras to record on a 24/7 basis so it would catch any attempt by security forces and then they would post those videos online, because they cannot be present at the time where the security forces there all the time, you know, because it's dangerous.
Werman: It's cold this time of the year in Homs and aside from the random chaos and the violence, what is life in Homs like right now?
Telawi: [Speaking Arabic]
Interpreter: Homs and Bab Sba'a specifically is suffering one of the most dangerous things compared to other areas is that there's no actual hospital over there, so there's no place to take all the wounded people there. There were an eight year old boy that was shot by a sniper this morning and I recorded that, and the bullet went though the window. It broke the window and straight through the boy and it killed him, and because the killing is being daily right now, on a daily basis, there's no place to take all these wounded people, that we need blood, we need meds, we need IVs. There's nothing around us because there's no hospitals. So it's pretty much a surviving and life matter more than being warm right now.
Werman: I don't know how much news people in Homs are getting from the outside world, but earlier this week, President Assad gave an interview to the American News Network, ABC, and he said he doesn't feel any guilt for the deaths of Syrians during the past nine months of protests because he doesn't own the military. In fact, he said, "Military forces belong to the government. I don't own them. I'm President. I don't own the country, so they're not my forces." Omar, what is your reaction to that?
Telawi: [Speaking Arabic].
Interpreter: It didn't make any sense, what he said and it's craziness what Bashar al-Assad's talked about, that he doesn't own the government. He's the leader of the government and the army. That's his title. So he is in full responsibility for what's going on, but now they're trying to spread the rumor and keep lying, lying, lying until you believe the lie. So that's what he's trying to do, and from his last interview, you can tell that he lost control from all these answers and he actually did lose control in Homs because the freedom army is now in charge and it's the one that is controlling and protecting civilians in Homs. The situation in the life in Homs right now is brutal. There is no electricity, there's no water, no heating oil — which is the main thing. It's really cold right now and people, they're not bringing any heating oil because it's really expensive, so it's pretty much cut in Homs. So people are suffering, kids cannot stand up anymore, there's not even milk for the kids, the stores are closed most of the time, so we cannot get any food supplies specially for elderly and kids that cannot tolerate that kind of lifestyle condition. And I just want to tell you the condition of all the arrested people are living right now. There are too many people, over a thousand people in a small room, really cold, they keep them in underwears and they spray cold water on them. They're not able to help them or help their families. When I'm able to contact them, I feel really bad because they're getting humiliated in a really, really bad way. I'm not going to go through it right now because it's not appropriate, but they're getting insulted and humiliated brutally. It's really, really, really hard and it's really a tough life for everyone right now.
Werman: Clearly a dire situation in Homs. Activist Omar, spoke with us from Homs, Syria. Omar, thank you very much for speaking with us and stay safe.
Telawi: Thank you. [Speaking Arabic].
Werman: I just want to say thank you and thanks for making the effort to make that happen and to show the world what's happening in Bab Sba'a and Syria in general. I'm also grateful to our translator who joined us anonymously for security reasons. Thank you.
Interpreter: Thank you.