‘I slept through it. This was a pan­tomime’: hard­ened Da­m­as­cus res­i­dents shrug off overnight strikes

The at­tack was met with shows of de­fi­ance in some pro-regime ar­eas … but in much of the cap­i­tal life went on as nor­mal, re­port Martin Chulov and Na­dia al-Faour

The Observer - - News -

When ex­plo­sions rocked Da­m­as­cus just af­ter 4am, few went down to the streets. All over a city so ac­cus­tomed to war, lights and TVs were switched on – not off. The US-led strike had been widely an­tic­i­pated in the Syr­ian cap­i­tal, its likely tar­gets so well flagged that not many seemed to fear the con­se­quences.

“I slept through it,” said Khalil Abu Hamza, who lives near the scene of one at­tack. “This was a pan­tomime any­way.”

Closer to the cen­tre, Taha, 31, said a fa­mil­iar se­ries of thumps in the mid­dle dis­tance alerted him to the raid just be­fore 4.30am. “I watched the news with my wife till 5.30,” he said. “No one went down from their homes. My mother, who lives across the street from us, wasn’t even both­ered. Keep in mind, we are used to this. The Syr­ian flag has been raised in Umayyad Square as a sign of de­fi­ance.”

By mid-morn­ing, streets in the Malki area – a strong­hold of the As­sad regime – were bustling and the at­mos­phere calm, lo­cals said. “Peo­ple are out and about to­day,” said one woman, Samia, 34. “The streets are full and so is the mall. Old ladies are clean­ing their car­pets on the bal­cony. I don’t know why it is be­ing blown out of pro­por­tion; we’ve been go­ing through war for the past seven years. It’s just like any other day. We’ve grown a thick skin.”

Nearby, a 58-year-old woman, who re­fused to be iden­ti­fied, said the ten­sion of the past few days had quickly given way to re­lief when the sounds of the in­com­ing mis­siles were re­placed by si­lence. Life was go­ing on nor­mally to­day, she said. “I feel like it was done to save face. Peo­ple are out on the streets to­day, shop­ping and buy­ing gro­ceries. This didn’t phase us.”

Abu Haidar, 62, a sup­porter of the Syr­ian leader, said he had been wait­ing for the at­tack since Don­ald Trump’s bel­liger­ent tweet on Wed­nes­day. “When we heard the ex­plo­sions, we knew it was the Amer­i­cans. Peo­ple didn’t go down to shel­ters, didn’t scream, didn’t hide. We were out on the roofs of our build­ing. The Da­m­as­cus sky was lit up. But we knew this was all a front.”

In a cap­i­tal of di­vided loy­al­ties, not ev­ery­one was pleased with the short, sharp blitz, which tar­geted a sci­en­tific re­search base in west­ern Da­m­as­cus as well as two other sites in west­ern Syria. Some who op­pose the As­sad regime were hop­ing for more than a care­fully chore­ographed at­tack caus­ing only con­tained dam­age.

“We had high hopes,” said Hus­sam, 40, a sup­porter of the anti-As­sad op­po­si­tion. “Un­for­tu­nately the only thing re­ver­ber­at­ing among us is dis­ap­point­ment. It wasn’t as in­tense as they’re mak­ing it sound. We have no more faith in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. Trump has been say­ing he will bomb for days now, like he’s warn­ing Bashar ahead of time to be safe. If I am com­ing to mur­der some­one, will I tell him be­fore­hand? It’s ridicu­lous, it’s non­sense. They are laugh­ing at us.”

In Umayyad Square, a land­mark in cen­tral Da­m­as­cus, res­i­dents waved Syr­ian flags and drove around a round­about honk­ing horns. Sol­diers in full com­bat uni­form stood by re­laxed, eye­wit­nesses said.

There were also small-scale cel­e­bra­tions in the Old City, and near the Sayeda Zainab shrine – a fo­cal point for pro-As­sad mili­tias, es­pe­cially Hezbol­lah, which hails its de­fence as a ca­sus belli for be­ing in Syria in the first place.

Check­points pep­per a city still clearly em­broiled in in­sur­gency and fear­ing a threat from the skies. Though this was the first US blitz to hit Da­m­as­cus, Is­rael has sent its jets to hit tar­gets in Syria more than 100 times, and many of those strikes have been in or around the city.

In Douma, near the scene of the chem­i­cal at­tack that led to the strike, there was lit­tle re­ac­tion yes­ter­day. There, as in the rest of Da­m­as­cus, peo­ple were fear­ful about putting their name to their thoughts.

Those who have stayed – most were ex­iled to north­ern Syria af­ter the op­po­si­tion group de­fend­ing Douma sur­ren­dered hours af­ter the chem­i­cal strike – say they need to live in si­lence now. “I can’t talk any more,” said a res­i­dent who has been speak­ing to the Ob­server for the past two years. “Please don’t use my name any more.”

An in­spec­tion team from the in­ter­na­tional chem­i­cal weapons watch­dog, the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for the Preven­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons (OPCW), ar­rived in Douma mid-morn­ing to be­gin an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the at­tack, which killed more than 42 peo­ple, and – ac­cord­ing to re­ports passed to the

World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion – left more than 500 in­jured.

In pro-regime ar­eas of Da­m­as­cus, there is lit­tle scep­ti­cism about the Syr­ian and Rus­sian claims that the at­tack was ei­ther staged or didn’t hap­pen at all. In anti-As­sad house­holds, there are grow­ing fears that in­ves­ti­ga­tors will never get to the truth.

Za­her al-Sakat, a for­mer Syr­ian Army bri­gadier who helped lead the coun­try’s chem­i­cal weapons ca­pa­bil­ity un­til he de­serted in 2013, said: “The regime will al­ways find some­one to de­fend their crimes. The Rus­sians say their ex­perts found noth­ing to do with chem­i­cals. While [Sergei] Lavrov [Rus­sia’s for­eign min­is­ter] the fol­low­ing day said chem­i­cals were found. What is this non­sense?

“How can peo­ple say he will not ben­e­fit by us­ing the chem­i­cal weapons? The ev­i­dence is the dis­place­ment of the peo­ple of Douma. The regime couldn’t ad­vance; the me­dia spokesper­son of the na­tional guard said on TV: ‘You will see how they will fall like flies.’ Chlo­rine was in­deed used; there were mis­siles car­ry­ing Sarin. We have all the doc­u­ments and proof of his heinous crime.

“Now the Rus­sians are in charge of the scene, we are sure they will ma­nip­u­late the ev­i­dence. We have over 50 corpses buried in an undis­closed lo­ca­tion that are solid proof of the at­tack. We will not say where be­cause the regime will be quick to de­stroy the ev­i­dence.

“The As­sad regime used the at­tack to kill the spir­its of the peo­ple. It was a psy­cho­log­i­cal at­tack to get peo­ple to give up.”

‘Peo­ple didn’t go down to the shel­ters, didn’t scream, didn’t hide. We were out on the roofs’ Abu Haidar, As­sad sup­porter

Getty, Reuters

TOP Pro-gov­ern­ment Da­m­as­cus res­i­dents protest in Umayyad Square.

ABOVE As­sad talk­ing to the me­dia on Fri­day.

Pho­to­graph by Has­san Am­mar/ AP

A sol­dier film­ing the dam­aged re­search fa­cil­ity in west­ern Da­m­as­cus tar­geted in the airstrikes.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.