Life and death in Damascus's shrinking Square of Security

Wed Apr 17, 2013 10:25am EDT
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DAMASCUS (Reuters) - In Damascus, even death offers no respite from the suffocating conflict encroaching on the Syrian capital.

The once secure central neighborhoods of the city are being sucked into the turmoil ravaging Syria as rebel fighters battle President Bashar al-Assad's forces on its periphery and step up rocket fire into central Damascus.

Relatives of people killed in and around the city cannot retrieve bodies before signing a mountain of paperwork absolving government forces of blame - just the first obstacle to be overcome before they can start a mourning process that is itself highly restricted.

Victims of violence cannot be described as "martyrs" in the death notices pasted on city walls and along narrow alleys unless they die fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad's forces. Only vague phrases, such as "due to a tragic accident", are acceptable.

Bodies cannot be taken to mosques for funeral prayers in case they become a platform for anti-Assad protest.

And when mourners finally lay their loved one to rest, prayers are conducted in haste under the watchful eye of security forces who roam cemeteries to guard against the smallest display of anti-government sentiment.

The killing of a Damascus merchant, a distant relative of this reporter, at a checkpoint just a few weeks ago - a death described by his immediate family as random and unnecessary - highlighted both the new daily perils of Damascus life and the tribulations after death.

A trader in his 60s from the Old City in central Damascus, Aboudi was killed by a government sniper as his brother drove him and his son through a checkpoint on a morning errand to buy bread, his relatives told me. I have given only his family name to protect his identity.

The men passed through the area regularly and were known to the soldiers manning the checkpoint, who often waved them through. On this morning Aboudi's partially deaf brother saw a guard nod his assent, and drove through the checkpoint, unaware that another guard was shouting at him to stop.   Continued...

Pedestrians stop to read details of a death notice at a street in Damascus, April 3, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer