BEIRUT, (Reuters) – By day, the streets of Syria’s capital are crowded with cars and with shoppers. It looks normal, but it isn’t – by noon, people are planning how to get home before nightfall.
Roads suddenly blocked by the army cause traffic jams. Workers race to quit the office, hit the shops and get home by dark. Dark is when the kidnappers come out to seek new victims, and the clashes raging on the outskirts creep ever closer to the heart of Damascus.
For months, the people of Damascus have nervously watched their ancient city dragged deeper into Syria’s bloody conflict.
Fighting has already laid waste to much of the northern city of Aleppo and burned parts of its vaulted Old City quarter to the ground. Whole swathes of central Homs have been reduced to rubble.
“I’ve seen what happens and have a sinking feeling about what comes next. We fear killing and bombing, we fear being forced to flee, or being looted by the army or the rebels,” said Majed, 28, a hotel worker from central Damascus. “What would happen to our beautiful Old City? It is mental torture.”
The 20-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for four decades, is now finally threatening the seat of power.
Residents describe a foreboding and anxiety overtaking Damascus.
Rush hour now starts around 3 p.m., well before dusk.
“The rush starts sooner here than I’ve ever seen. It gets dark earlier in winter, and everyone wants to get home before dark,” said one Damascus resident, who asked not to be named. “Even though so many people have left the city, Damascus traffic has never been so heavy.”