“Forty-five percent of the Syrian people are getting their electricity from gas,” Abdullah said.
The gas plant has come under government attack, however. In April, shelling from government troops stationed across the Euphrates River destroyed a warehouse where American-origin spare parts were stored. Distressed plant officials phoned the national Oil Ministry and pleaded for the government to halt the attack. After about a half-hour, the shelling stopped.
Employees think the shelling was the work of a local commander, not some higher-level official. “The government doesn’t control its soldiers in areas of battle,” said one employee who asked that he not be named for security reasons.
Whatever the cause, a shutdown usually leads to further problems. Thieves, for example, take advantage of the electricity cutoff to steal electrical cables and strip them of their copper, which they can resell.
The oil pipeline no longer operates and has been “completely compromised,” said a gas plant employee who also didn’t wish to be named.
Lawlessness prevails. At one of the wellheads, controlled by the al Agaidat al Bakayir tribe, a member didn’t miss a beat when he was asked who owns the well. “We own the wellhead – until the next government takes it over,” he said, identifying himself only as Uday, age 27.
He said his tribe wasn’t concerned about losing its claim to another tribe. “We stole it,” he said. “We grabbed it. We are all thieves.”
While the local tribes can celebrate their good fortune, the newcomers have tales of woe. Idris said he and his family, who are members of Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, had fled Homs under threat of death from government troops and irregular pro-Assad militia known as the Shabiha in January 2012.
Idris said his Homs neighborhood was a mix of Sunnis and Alawites, adherents of the Shiite Islam offshoot to which Assad and much of Syria’s elite belong. Then “one morning army soldiers, together with about 50 militiamen in black, told us we had to move out,” he said. “We broke through the back walls to get out.” He said he saw people shot while walking on the street.
He fled with his family to Rastan, a city north of Homs, and then to Termale, in the Homs countryside. Shelling drove them to Hasaka in eastern Syria. But there was no electricity, gas or water, and uncertain security, so they left for the village of Jadid Baggara in rebel-held Deir el Zour, where they now live.
Reconciliation with Assad now seems impossible, especially for the internally displaced. Khalid recalled that his family house in Homs had two floors, and the family’s big machine shop in the town employed seven.
“Then they told us, ‘We don’t want any Sunni here,’ ” Khalid recounted. “We left with only the clothes on our backs.” Now he’s alone in Deir el Zour. His father, a biology teacher, sells cigarettes in Hasaka, a brother – one of seven siblings – is fighting near Homs and others are in Hasaka.
“God will deal with him,” he said of Assad. “He made me homeless.”
Idris, when he was asked whether there was anything he regretted or would do differently, had a succinct reply. “We had to revolt against this regime. It was brutal,” he responded. “But the price we are paying is too high.”
That said, “when the revolution wins, we will consider it worth the price. We have lost materially, but our spirit has not been defeated.”