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Homs - a city still at war

Pro-Assad forces patrol Syria's third largest city of Homs Photo: ITV News

I have to be honest.

I really did think the violence in Syria's third city, Homs, was over; that the forces of President Assad had cleared out the rebels and crushed the city. I was wrong.

The rebellion is very much alive here.

It is centred on two districts where I heard bursts of gunfire for more than six hours. It was impossible to tell which side - regime or rebels - was shooting but there were clear exchanges of fire; gun battles.

The United Nations brokered a ceasefire which was due to start here three weeks ago. It never started. There is no ceasefire here.

In the Khaldiya district the streets are deserted. It's eerie.

Single shots ring out every few seconds; there are snipers on many of the rooftops. I was warned by Syrian troops to take cover. There is little doubt that they are being targeted. But little doubt too that they are giving as good as they get.

Assad's men crushed another district, Baba Amr, with a brutal bombardment that lasted for months. Now that UN observers are on the ground in Homs, it's unlikely he'll do that; he has agreed not to use heavy weapons and to take his tanks off the streets. But that still leaves him with plenty of heavy handed options.

I drove into Baba Amr, expecting something close to normality, now that the fighting there has ended. Nothing is normal there. The few children I saw looked bewildered. I hesitate to call the survivors of the siege here shell-shocked, but that's how they looked. No-one wanted to talk on camera. They are too afraid that they will be killed.

That's not to say I saw many people. The main street has tumbleweed blowing through it and hardly a person in it. If parts of Homs are a ghost town, then this is the heart of the horror.

The streets are filled with ghosts. Countless hundreds died here; civilians, rebels, soldiers and journalists like Britain's Marie Colvin.

The destruction is extraordinary. Most buildings are empty and I didn't see a single one for a mile that wasn't pockmarked with bullet holes and rocket damage. The survivors exist amid rubble and rubbish.

There are now four UN observers in Homs; from Bangladesh, Malaysia, Egypt and Norway. They are unarmed in a city awash with weapons.

They have no power to stop the fighting that was meant to stop weeks ago.

They have no power to tell anyone to do anything.

But they are now the eyes of the world on the ground in Homs. They can witness the killing and tell us all about it.

They will have their work cut out.

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