Syrians walk past a Christmas tree being decorated in the Christian-majority neighborhood of Hamidiyeh in the old city of Homs on December 17, 2017. AFP / Youssef KARWASHAN
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The metallic green Christmas tree towers over the bombed-out heart of Syria's third city Homs, where residents are relishing a holiday cheer they haven't felt in years.They have been busy putting the final decorative touches on the tree in Hamidiyeh, a neighborhood in the ravaged Old City of Homs, where ferocious street battles pitted regime forces against rebels between 2011 and 2014 .The scars of the battles that gripped Homs are still visible: partially destroyed buildings, collapsed or pockmarked walls, and piles of sandbags can be found across the Old City.Many of its 800,000 residents fled when war erupted, but tens of thousands have trickled back, including to the Old City.Homs's Old City had a significant Christian population before the war and is home to several ancient churches, including the celebrated St. Mary Church of the Holy Belt, named after a venerated relic said to be a section of the belt of Mary, mother of Jesus.
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