War Comes to Damascus

A Syrian woman and her son walk in an alley in the old city of Damascus on 8 November 2012. (Photo: AFP - Joseph Eid)

By: Marah Mashi

Published Thursday, November 8, 2012

Despite ongoing violence in many parts of Syria, including the suburbs of Damascus, the capital itself had been largely spared. This changed in past weeks as the frequency and variety of violence in Damascus has increased.

Damascus – Three people were killed and several others wounded Wednesday morning when the Mazzeh 86 residential neighborhood in Damascus came under mortar fire, reportedly from anti-government forces based either in the Basateen al-Mazzeh district or Kfar Sousa. This came amid rumors that a similar attack targeted the presidential palace and the government headquarters.

According to the opposition Local Coordination Committees (LCCs), the target was the building of al-Bustan Charitable Association, which is owned by Rami Makhlouf, the wealthy Syrian businessman and maternal cousin of President Bashar Assad. But it is common knowledge in the area that the charity’s headquarters were moved several months ago to another area, and the mortars missed the building that once housed it.

Units from the Syrian army had responded to the source of the shelling, while security forces conducted raids in the districts of Basateen and the Eastern Villas, but the daring attack in the heart of Damascus caused panic in the capital and embarrassed regime loyalists.

Recent media reports have alleged mortar launching platforms were being built in the Basateen area, but it appears no action was taken on the part of the government.

Some residents claimed the assailants had help from within the neighborhood in identifying their targets. Others blamed the army and the security forces, which have so far failed to put an end to the armed insurgency.

Bombings and More Bombings

The shelling followed a week of bloody explosions in Damascus. After Mazzeh 86 and Bab Touma square, a series of car bombs struck al-Wurud, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Damascus known for being pro-government. Three consecutive blasts rocked one of Wurud’s busiest squares, killing 30 civilians and wounding 50 bystanders.

Another huge blast shook the Syrian capital, this time targeting a police station in al-Qadam district.

The bombing that took place a few days ago in Arous al-Jabal, a square in Mazzeh 86, was not the first to target the neighborhood. Mazzeh road and the area surrounding al-Jalaa stadium have been targeted by several bomb attacks, in addition to frequent shootings in the neighborhood of Sheikh Saad.

The explosion in Mazzeh 86 was the result of a bomb-rigged Saba, a locally-made car, which caused large scale devastation in the neighborhood. There were scenes of carnage everywhere, with human remains and charred bodies as a result of the massive fire caused by the car bomb.

Soumar, a journalist, recalled passing through Arous al-Jabal square just a few minutes before the bombing. He told Al-Akhbar that the last thing he remembers was the faces of several primary school students carrying their school bags and walking towards the square.

Many residents expressed outrage that the security forces were not able to stop the attack, and the car was apparently able to pass through the checkpoint at the entrance to the neighborhood.

Shabiha settlements

Some senior figures in the opposition camp justified the attacks on pro-government neighborhoods, arguing that “killing shabiha [pro-government thugs] is tantamount to killing monsters who have lost their humanity.” The regime ultimately bears responsibility for the deaths, according to some.

However, the LCCs insisted in a statement that the bombing targeted a security building and army officers. Yet all indications on the ground show that there is no such security building in the whole area.

For many pedestrians, particularly in the Mazzeh area, every parked vehicle has thus become a possible car bomb, and each suspicious package or bag a source of fear.

As Rami, a resident of Damascus, drives towards Mazzeh, he accelerates beyond the speed limit, and ignores the traffic cameras. He says that he prefers to die in a car accident rather than die in an explosion.

He looks around at the empty streets of Damascus in the evening after the bombing and then asks, “It seems that we are refusing to adjust with the bloody reality of the country, are we not?”

Meanwhile, Hanin, a university student, spoke about the bombing that targeted a vendor’s kiosk near her home. The kiosk’s owner lost both his legs in the explosion.

Amjad, a friend of Hanin, says sarcastically: “Such a clean operation must have cost at least $100,000.”

In the past two days, Damascus has taken on a more sorrowful air as the Syrian army continues to operate in Daraya and Basateen. The violent sounds suggest that the battles taking place are the fiercest in the capital so far.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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