The government, meanwhile, gets a safety valve for its growing humanitarian crisis. Yabrud’s estimated pre-rebellion population of 50,000 is thought to have nearly doubled as a result of displaced Syrians who have fled from violence in Homs, Qusair and other flash points. Three of the town’s public schools serve as ad hoc refugee camps. Many Yabrudis shelter refugees in their homes or allow them to use the town’s outlying farms.
The government derives another advantage from ignoring Yabrud. The town lies near the main highway running from Damascus through Homs and on to Aleppo in the country’s north. The road is a vital government supply line. By staying out of Yabrud, the army has avoided the emergence here of a dedicated and competent rebel fighting force, such as the well-organized and well-funded Farouq Brigade that operates in Homs and increasingly in Damascus.
Most of the FSA in Yabrud consists of untrained civilians rather than defected Syrian soldiers. And although they occasionally attempt to ambush government convoys traveling the highway, such attacks are limited, rare and deliberately staged at least 12 miles farther south.