DAMASCUS – The Assad government of Syria has given the Rastan pocket, a long time isolated area under rebel control, the official status of a protected cultural and wildlife reserve, state media has reported. This means that the pocket is now off limits in order to protect its cultural and natural heritage.
The Rastan pocket, also sometimes called the “north Homs pocket”, is a relatively large besieged area north of the city of Homs, along the highway connecting Homs to Hama, that has been under rebel control almost since the war’s beginning. It gets its name from the largest town in the area, Al-Rastan. The front lines around the pocket have changed very little since the war began.
Now the Syrian government has decided to give Rastan the status of a protected reserve, because “it is de facto one already”.
“The people of Syria love us and support our President, but we simply do not have enough manpower to take the pocket,” a Syrian Army officer in the area said, then stopped to think.
“What my comrade wanted to say is that we never intended to take it,” another officer said. “That’s why we’re giving it reserve status now, to preserve its unique, untouched and long lasting tradition of Sunni Islamic rebellion. It’s like a national park but with people!”
“Also to protect any of its inherent wildlife that was not yet eaten,” the first officer added.
“It is valuable cultural heritage and old ruins like this that we seek to protect,” Syria’s Minister of Culture, also present at the front line for this occasion, told us as he was pointing to a semi-collapsed mosque in the distance, on the rebel side of the front line, that he said was built all the way in 1993. “Now our government has completely changed everything by not allowing anyone to enter the pocket in order not to spoil the way of life there. You can see this new policy already in action as the soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army are in no way entering the pocket, as per our plan,” the Minister said.
The Minister of Culture also said that the government is considering making Zabadani, Darayya, Jobar and other besieged pockets with a static front line, but more importantly with cultural heritage and an abundance of ruins that need protection, their very own protected reserves as well. “We have to protect our country. That’s why we collapsed the Umayyad Mosque of Aleppo’s minaret, to free up a UNESCO status that we can then give to the Rastan pocket. It was our plan all along.” the Minister concluded and added that places with a long-time static front line qualify because it’s easier to define the bounds of the reserve, and not in any way because the government cannot reclaim them.
ISIL said it has a surplus of homeless UNESCO statuses that it is willing to give to reserve-worthy places like Deir ez-Zor, in return for government concessions such as letting them cut the Damascus-Homs highway, re-besiege Kuweires airbase or kill everyone in Sadad.