In Damascus, young Syrians try to revive their lives

Wed Apr 27, 2016 8:11am EDT
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By John Davison

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - By a military checkpoint in Damascus's Old City, just a mile from the battered frontline between government and rebel-held territory, young Syrians sit on a garden wall smoking, drinking beer or soft drinks, and talking about anything but the war.

It is a week night, but the Damascenes are keen to head out to a strip of new bars that have opened in the last few months -- some to socialize and others to work in the venues.

The revival of activity in this once-vibrant quarter is part of efforts to project an air of normality in the Syrian capital, even as the five-year-old war that has killed more than 250,000 people and created 5 million refugees continues to rage nearby.

To the east and southwest, opposition-held Ghouta remains under blockade and bombardment by government forces. In Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, to the south, residents have recently faced starvation as rival jihadist groups al Qaeda and Islamic State battle for control.

Shells were hitting Damascus's city center late last year, including near Bab Sharqi gate. Now, people smoke water pipes outside Pub Sharqi -- a play on words that reads the same in Arabic -- or watch football at noisier bar "80's" next door.

"This is something you certainly wouldn't see two years ago, and it's picked up even more recently," said Nicolas Rahal, a 23-year-old graphic designer, speaking over loud music in a bar.

The number of people going out has grown as venues have opened one after the other and employed more people, Rahal said.

"I can now go to this pub or that nightclub. Places opened and people came."   Continued...

A bartender pours a drink at 80s Bar in Damascus, Syria, March 11, 2016. I REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki