In Syria's Homs, sectarian spoils of war at bargain prices

BEIRUT Tue Jun 19, 2012 5:08am EDT

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - They call it the "Sunni market" - a comic term with a dark undertone.

As rockets and gunfire crackle in the central city of Homs, hardline loyalists from President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect steal goods from the shattered neighborhoods of Sunni Muslims, the majority population that led the revolt against him.

Grocery stores and thrift shops become loot markets.

"Maybe I'll nab a bargain," says a 50-year-old woman wandering through a supermarket that now trades in looted furniture. "I found a really nice kitchen table set made of gorgeous old wood. But he wants $200 dollars for it!"

Furniture usually goes for around $50 or less. Clothes and shoes are $5 to $20. Everything is open to negotiation.

The woman haggles with the shopkeeper. "These are the spoils of war. It's our right to take them," she says.

Even shopping now has a sectarian dimension in Homs, heart of the 15-month-old revolt against Assad, where killings and kidnappings based on religion became common.

Some in the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam and the dominant force in the Syrian elite, say they are only defending themselves. They say Sunnis want to crush them, not establish a democracy as activists say.

"This isn't stealing, it is our right. Those people support terrorism and we have to finish them off," says Ayman, a 25-year-old youth wearing pointed black shoes and a studded belt.

Outside the shop, he helps young men with slicked back hair and tight jeans unload television sets from vans.

After security forces pound rebel areas in Homs and Sunni residents flee, pro-Assad Alawite gangs called "shabbiha" sweep in behind them to salvage goods from the rubble.

"The other day our boss sent us to a place near the cultural centre. It was an electronics store - TVs, fridges, stuff like that," said Ayman.

"We worked it for three hours, taking stuff and putting it in storage. We got 10,000 lira ($147), plus a TV. So why not?"

Not everyone is impressed, says Mahmoud, an old vegetable vendor outside the loot store, his wrinkled face set in a frown.

"They are the dregs of society. Now, Alawites will be seen as thieves," he said.

But with the conflict ravaging Syria's economy, some Alawite vendors say they are happy to find a way to scrounge some cash.

"Last week a businessman came from (the port of) Tartous and bought 3 million lira of stolen goods, happy for the deal," said furniture dealer Hasan. "At the end of the day, I'm a businessman, and people are buying."

(This story is based on the observations of a visitor to Syria, known to Reuters. His identity has been withheld for safety reasons)

(Writing by Erika Solomon; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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Comments (1)
Petter wrote:
Not even the supposed Shabbiha are supposed to be divided by sectarian association and it makes me doubt the narrative of the source as well as the reporters that forwards it. Why peopled fled the city is because of violence by rebels and other gangs to begin with. It’s not like the first thing that happened where mortars raining down, Syria lost control of those areas before the army was deployed, not that rebels don’t use heavy weapons now too for that matter. People just going about their life didn’t cause the breakdown in security they where victims. Attacking Syrian institutions isn’t a sunni vs shi’ite narrative, even if it serves the armed opposition and Quislings. Of course making the choice staying as human shields in an war zone with foreign backed rebels is a sect like behavior in of it self. But 99% of the people will either be evacuated or don’t consider the rebel controlled zones “freed” and are happy to see the rebels gone. It takes more to divide a society in sectarian groups. And it’s not like the Sunni-dominated Baath-party will just disappear. They have already given up any formal monopoly powers. Meanwhile the SNC’s official policy is armed struggle and civil war. There is just no party to speak with on the ground which represents those groups, nobody to speak with, nobody to make any deals with and no possibility of a political solution as long as they keep going with their policy while not talking.

Jun 19, 2012 10:46pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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