Navigating a New Damascus: Cement Barriers and Checkpoints

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A car driving on a snow-covered road past the Hijaz train station, built in Ottoman times, in the Syrian capital of Damascus on 10 January 2013. (Photo: AFP - SANA)

By: Marah Mashi

Published Sunday, January 13, 2013

Damascus – Damascus has changed. It looks nothing like its old self. The city is divided by concrete blocks that cordon off neighborhoods, forcing its residents into traffic jams at various crossings.

There are less than five streets in the city with no barriers. Most are blockaded, given that they are lined with potential targets for attacks: various security forces headquarters and governmental institutions.

If you come across a roadblock and attempt to find an alternate route to your destination, it’s not uncommon to find yourself back where you began, guided there by cement barriers and armed security personnel. Thus, travel time to anywhere in the capital has doubled.

Most of the roads are accessible only by military and security vehicles. As a result, many have tried to ease their traffic difficulties and gain access to special, quicker traffic lanes by obtaining a military ID card or a gun license.

This practice has led to closer inspections of military vehicles, especially since these types of vehicles have been used to set off bombs, most notably in Jaramana.

Housam, a bank employee from Damascus, recounts his daily struggle to get to work, not to mention the danger he faces when returning to his home late at night in Zahira. He says that after 8 pm, cars disappear from the streets of Damascus. It’s as if residents follow a voluntary curfew.

He also explains how one might go about obtaining a military ID card. One must have a family member in the military or at least close ties to someone higher up who can vouch that the applicant is a trusted regime loyalist.

It’s not always necessary to be a regime supporter to get an ID, according to Housam. “I know people in the opposition who have these kinds of cards. They are able to get them through connections to an officer,” he said.

Alaa, an army lieutenant, says that using the military lane is no longer desirable among many soldiers and military officers except in case of an emergency. They fear that watchful eyes at checkpoints will later target them for kidnappings.

Even though the checkpoints and roadblocks have not reduced the number of daily explosions, Alaa says that they reduce the number of casualties near governmental and security headquarters. The latest bomb set off near the Ministry of Interior that led to the injury of the interior minister himself could contradict Alaa’s claims. The cement blocks, like the checkpoints, do not stop the bombs and do not prevent deaths.

On a less serious note, the cement barriers are an eyesore in Damascus. This prompted a youth group, called the “Syrian Flag Youth,” to paint many of the roadblocks the colors of the Syrian flag.

The paint isn’t able to cover all the graffiti on the cement barriers. Phrases like “Assad or Nobody” have since been replaced with messages like, “Dear citizen, waiting a few minutes could save you from a ticking bomb.”

Despite the efforts to improve the barriers’ look, the feeling that every road is blocked remains.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Syrians these road blocks may seem bad but you must remember it is for your protection.Your military and government have acheived great success against the worst killers and terrorist America and Israel could find to send to Syria.Stay strong and always stay united Syria because when you stay united the American government and Israel will not be able to conquer you.

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