Insight: Divided Damascus confronted by all-out war

Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:38am EST
 

By Samia Nakhoul

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - MiG warplanes roar low overhead to strike rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad on the fringes of Damascus, while artillery batteries pound the insurgents from hills overlooking a city divided between all-out war and a deceptive calm.

Whole families can be obliterated by air raids that miss their targets. Wealthy Syrians or their children are kidnapped. Some are returned but people tell grim tales of how others are tortured and dumped even when the ransom is paid.

People also tell of prisoners dying under torture or from infected wounds; of looting by the government's feared shabbiha militias or by rebels fighting to throw out the Assad family.

That is one Damascus. In the other, comprising the central districts of a capital said to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world, the restaurant menus are full, the wine is cheap and the souks are packed with shoppers.

Employees report for work, children go to school and shops are open, seemingly undeterred by the din and thud of war.

The two cities exist a few miles apart - for now.

For Damascus and its outskirts are rapidly descending into civil war and everything that comes with it - lawlessness, looting, kidnapping and revenge killings. Like the rest of the country, the capital and its suburbs are crawling with armed gangs.

"Anybody can come to you pretending he is security and grab you in broad daylight, put you in a car and speed off and nobody dares interfere or rescue you," says Lama Zayyat, 42. "A girl in the 7th grade was kidnapped and her father was asked to pay a big ransom. The same happened to other children," she said.   Continued...

 
A man stands in an empty street near a burning building hit by a mortar shell fired by Syrian Army soldiers, in the Zamalka neighbourhood of Damascus February 6, 2013. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic