In late October, we brought you what we called “haunting” drone footage of the devastation in Syria, where five years of bloody conflict has cost the country both its population and its cultural heritage.
“The civil war has been going on four years. What is now left of Syria?,” Die Presse asked President Bashar al-Assad in a December interview.
“If they talk about the infrastructure, much of it is destroyed,” Assad responded.
“Every day you can hear the shelling, even here in Damascus, quite close to us,” Die Presse continued, underscoring the extent to which the country’s crumbling capital is still under siege from rebels.
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From “The Slow Death of Damascus,” by Thanassis Cambanis
Over the course of a recent 10-day visit, Damascus residents said they feel less embattled than they did a year ago, but the war is still an inescapable reality of everyday life. Every night, dozens of mortars still land in the city center, sending wounded and sometimes dead civilians to Damascus General Hospital. From the city’s still-busy cafés, clients can hear the thuds of outgoing government guns and the rolling explosions of the barrel bombs dropped on the rebel-held suburb of Daraya.
Army and militia checkpoints litter the city. In some central areas, cars are stopped and searched every two blocks. Still, rebels manage to smuggle car bombs into the city center. According to residents, explosions occur every two or three weeks, but are rarely reported in the state media.
Workplaces across the country have emptied out over the summer, as Syrians with a few thousand dollars to spare risked the trip to Europe via Turkey and a boat ride to Greece, taking advantage of a newly permissive Syrian government policy to issue passports quickly and without question.
Employees in government offices, international aid organizations, and private Syrian corporations estimated that anywhere between 20 and 50 percent of their coworkers left the country this summer.
“The government doesn’t care if people leave. It can’t stop them,” one middle-class Syrian, who has chosen so far to remain in Damascus, said of the exodus. “The war seems like it will go on forever. People see no future for their children. The only people who are staying are the ones who have it really good here or the ones who aren’t able to leave.”