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

Video Anti-Muslim Sponsor of Texas Cartoon Contest Draws Ire

Pamela Geller's supporters say she speaks truth about sensitive topic, while critics say she preaches 'that Islam is inherently evil' More

East Meets West in Exhibition Showing Chinese Influence on Fashion

Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition juxtaposes influence of art, imagery and culture, from Imperial China to the present day, on Western fashion and design More

South Africa Begins New Love Affair With Vinyl Records

Enthusiasts say the 'rebirth' of vinyl is resulting in a rebirth of music in South Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailandi
X
May 05, 2015 5:50 PM
Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailand

Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Russia's 'Victory Day' Glory Over Nazis Overshadowed by Ukraine

ussia is preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, known since the Soviet era as “The Great Patriotic War,” with a massive parade on May 9th of military hardware and millions of medals handed out to veterans or their relatives. But critics say the Soviet-style display of power and nationalism overshadows tragic scars during and after the war that still influence politics and foreign policy, especially in the current Ukraine crisis.
Video

Video WWII Anniversary Brings Old Friends and New Worries

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has special significance, with Russia becoming more assertive in Ukraine and sending its military planes to the edges of western countries’ airspace. Changes in the geostrategic balance and the transatlantic relationship are felt across the continent, not least in German towns that have hosted U.S. military bases since the defeat of Nazi Germany. VOA’s Al Pessin visited Schweinfurt, Germany, where a large base closed last year.
Video

Video Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversary

Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs