Middle East

Damascus residents 'hold their breath' as strike looms

In this Sunday, 25 August, 2013 photo, a Syrian child watches as his mother who fled her home because of Syria's civil war prepares a meal in the kitchen at the Kertaj Hotel in Damascus, Syria.
Image caption This child - whose home is a hotel in Damascus - is one of many Syrians internally displaced by the conflict

People in Damascus say that if you take a walk in the streets, you would never guess this city is about to face a possible US strike.

"It is very bizarre how people are getting on with their lives. We have got used to the war," said Amal, who lives in central Damascus.

"Shops are open, people [are] wandering around [and] eating ice cream, but they are also buying more food and bread, to store," Amal added.

"We are not afraid of death any more, we are awaiting it. We just need an end to all of this."

But despite the sense of normality, there is a lot of concern.

"[Syrian President] Assad can spare the country further violence and leave now," one shopkeeper in Damascus said. "But he will not and he will burn it all out," he added.

Two-and-a-half years since the start of the uprising, and with more than 100,000 Syrians killed, many people in Syria want to see an end to the violence.

With the possibility of imminent action by the United States in response to a suspected chemical attack against civilians on 21 August, many opposition supporters had hoped that Russia - Syria's main ally - would have forced President Bashar al-Assad to leave.

They had hoped Russia might push for a peaceful political solution. But that, for many, now looks like a dream.

Image caption UN chemical weapons experts are investigating the 21 August attack

Holding one's breath

In the suburbs of Damascus, where the suspected chemical attack took place, people are desperate for any solution to help end their suffering.

Mohammad lost his two little daughters and their mother. For him, American intervention would be the only way to stop President Assad and his forces from committing further violence.

"In this round, he killed 1,000. Next time he may kill 5,000 using the same chemical weapons. He will not stop unless [compelled] by military force," Mohammad said angrily.

"We protested peacefully. We called for freedom and dignity. And all we get is killing and now chemical weapons. Enough," he said.

This is a view that is reflected in many areas across the country that suffered human loss and destruction.


A number of peaceful activists who favour a political solution do not favour an intervention.

"Dictators bring invaders, but invaders never brought freedom," Khaled Khalifeh, a novelist who lives in Damascus, wrote on his Facebook page.

Khaled blames the Syrian regime for the developments in the country. But he also puts part of the blame on some "politicians and revolution-traders who sold our blood to Qatar and Saudi [Arabia]."

Image caption Thousands of Syrians have taken refuge in the capital

But President Assad's loyalists have a different view. They see intervention as an act of aggression by invaders.

Nada lives in Mezzeh 86 in Damascus - an area loyal to the president and predominantly composed of adherents to his Alawite sect.

She believes there is a conspiracy against her country. "They are coming to bomb us because our president opposes Israel," she said. "They are using the chemical weapons lie to weaken our state, like they did with Iraq with the WMD lie."

Some of President Assad's loyalists said the attack - on rebel-held areas of the Ghouta belt around south Damascus - was needed "to be cleansed of terrorists". They denied any chemical attack had taken place.

There is also great concern among Syrians about the aftermath of the possible strike.

Some in the opposition fear that if the US strike is not strong enough, the regime will get stronger and retaliate with further violence, creating more destruction.

And the loyalists fear that if a strike topples the regime, there will be revenge acts undertaken by the opposition against government supporters.

"If the US attack does take place, we need to have a political process in place immediately afterwards," an opposition activist opposed to military intervention said.