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.
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

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs