News / Middle East

Damascus Violence Forces Flight of Even Most Resolute

Free Syrian Army fighters prepare curtains to be erected as cover from snipers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, Babeela area of suburban Damascus, March 30, 2013.
Free Syrian Army fighters prepare curtains to be erected as cover from snipers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, Babeela area of suburban Damascus, March 30, 2013.
Reuters
A new exodus is flowing from Syria as fighting edges closer to the heart of Damascus — those who swore they would never flee are selling their belongings to escape a battle now raging on their doorsteps.
 
Many Syrians in the capital had long asserted that the uprising-turned-civil war would not breach the city center. Others insisted they would stay, no matter the consequences.
 
But fear has begun to grip even the most resolute residents.
 
For many the tipping point was a hail of mortar bombs and rockets that shook Damascus for several days last month as rebels and troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad brought tit-for-tat bombardments to the core of the capital.
 
March was the most violent month in Syria's two-year-old civil war, with an estimated 6,000 people killed after increased fighting around Damascus and the southern province of Deraa.
 
In response, families once determined to remain in the city are packing up and leaving. Others are scrambling to pull together limited resources and, with a heavy heart, are planning an indefinite absence from the only home they have known.
 
"My wife barely likes to go away on holiday," said Ibrahim, who owns a textile business that his family had run for generations in this ancient city. "And now, who would have thought we'd be packing to leave? God only knows when we'll be back."
 
More than 1 million Syrian refugees have already left, with thousands more fleeing daily. Aid groups operating in Syria say around 4 million others have been displaced inside the country, often having to move from place to place as violence spreads.
 
Ibrahim and his wife Lana, who asked for their family names to be withheld for security reasons, live in the middle class neighborhood of Rukn al-Din, where they raised four children.
 
Mortar and rocket fire has convulsed their once-tranquil district in the past few weeks. One huge blast killed several passersby outside their home and broke some of their windows.
 
"Things are only getting worse. Sometimes I hear the regime shells fly by our building on their way to the rebels. Then I sit and pray, thinking the retaliatory shelling is going to kill us," Lana said. "We have our 10-year-old daughter with us, and she's always afraid now. I can't take this anymore."
 
Strapped for cash, the couple sold their two cars to pay for air fares and perhaps a few months' rent in a new home in Egypt.
 
"Maybe in a few months things will have calmed down here, and we can return. God knows," said Lana.
 
She is taking her jewelry with her, which she estimates to be worth about $3,000 or $4,000, "in case we need extra cash."

Lana and Ibrahim are luckier than some.
 
Lives on hold
 
Another couple, Mayada and Yasser, are looking to flee again, months after they left their home in the suburb of Qudseya outside Damascus — now a ghost town and battleground.
 
Their move, to stay with parents in central Damascus, is typical of thousands of Syrians who fled fighting on the outskirts, only for the violence to edge ever closer.
 
Penury also looms for people like Yasser, a nutritionist and personal trainer, who has earned little in the past two years. Twice he was just meters from a mortar bomb explosion, he says.
 
"Both my wife and I care for our elderly parents, and we're very close to our siblings," said Yasser. "When we got married, we promised each other we'd never move abroad for these reasons. But now, things are so bad our parents are begging us to leave."
 
Mayada chimed in: "Our lives have been on hold for two years now. How long can we put up with this?"
 
They hope to fly to Jordan or the United Arab Emirates, depending on where they can get visas. Mayada plans to sell her jewelry to help keep them afloat for a few weeks.
 
Even the affluent have trouble now. Wafa and her husband Rasheed, a U.S.-trained physician, fled on Thursday from the posh neighborhood of Abu Rumaneh where they both grew up.
 
"We thought we just had to wait this war out," said Wafa, the young mother of two small boys. "Where would we go? Our home is here. Our parents are here. Our childhood memories. The clinic. We never thought we'd live anywhere else."
 
But shelling has struck Abu Rumaneh at least four times in the past month. One mortar round exploded in the park their home overlooks, another smashed into the dome of the local mosque down the block.
 
"It's been so frightening for us and our babies," said Wafa, sitting in her newly rented modest home in a Beirut suburb.
 
Her voice echoes in the sparsely furnished apartment. "Even living in a shack is better than the fright we've endured."

You May Like

Multimedia Obama, Modi Resolve Nuclear Deal Issues

Leaders find resolution on issues of liability of suppliers to India in event of nuclear accident, US demands to track whereabouts of material supplied to country More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid