On Damascus Streets, Front Lines Multiply
Syria’s capital, once a haven from the violence tearing through much of the country, now has multiple front lines and bears battle scars of its own.
A maze of checkpoints and neighborhood patrols run by the most hardened supporters of President Bashar al-Assad has allowed the government to reassert control in most areas—after rebel fighters stunned soldiers and residents last month.
Local councils of regime supporters, called Popular Committees, were months ago given the task by municipalities to guard their respective neighborhoods. Now, their members—mostly men in their 20s and 30s—have been armed with rifles and handguns, issued ID cards and given monthly salaries.
New license plates that read “protection of order” are displayed on a growing number of cars around the capital. The word for “order” in Arabic, locals point out, can also mean “regime,” a pun not lost on Syrians on both sides of the conflict.
But the weeklong government bombardment of crowded neighborhoods last month also gained rebel fighters some sympathy in other corners of the capital, making regime opponents out of displaced civilians and turning rebellious southern districts into nearly lawless enclaves. Still, many regime opponents say it was premature or reckless of rebels to bring the fight to the capital.
In the Yarmouk camp, where thousands of Palestinian refugees have taken in displaced Syrian families, and the adjacent Tadamon district—both periodically bombarded by government forces this week—rebel fighters man some checkpoints and aid workers delivering supplies need the permission of rebels to enter. Garbage hasn’t been collected in two weeks. Children at a fruit and vegetable market in Yarmouk skip over large mountains of trash, which residents have started to incinerate on the roadsides.
“We now have three states in Syria,” said a lawyer and opposition activist. “The regime’s state, the Syrian army’s state, and the Free Syrian Army’s state.”