Author: evabartlett

more insights into Bab Touma mortar attacks

Two days ago, one of the stream of mortars being fired upon various areas of Damascus hit Bab Touma (Thomas Gate) square, killing 2 and injuring at least 23, according to Sana news. Bab Touma itself is one of the eight gates leading into Damascus’ Old City. It also happens to be a busy area, filled with market stalls, vendors, pedestrians, and shops. And in terms of the greater area, while I haven’t been hurt by the mortars, I’ve heard many in the old city in the past few days, and many have landed within 500 metres or less (20-30 metres) of places I’m staying or have been in Damascus.

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A falafel shop was damaged in this latest Bab Touma mortar attack, and many shops surrounding the open area where the shell landed were damaged to varying degrees.  A shoe store I visited last night in the area wasn’t too badly damaged; the windows had their original layer of thin plastic on them, which kept the closest window from spraying glass into the room where employees were working.  I chatted with the owner, an Armenian, about the attack.  He wasn’t there at the time, but an employee was.

“It was just after 3 pm, the mortar landed there,” he said, pointing to the center of the open area. “Shrapnel flew everywhere, little bits and pieces.” [aside: the other day I got a lesson in mortars. The kind the "rebels" are using, mostly, are home-made. Some have just enough explosives to make them fly, the shell itself--stuffed with bits of metal, nails, anything injurious--causing wider injury to people.

"The area was packed with people. It happens a lot, a lot, a lot, ...all the time. In the last two weeks, around ten mortars have landed in this area. But they weren't as devastating as yesterday." I asked his opinion on who was firing these mortars. "I have no idea. But logistically, they had to have come from Jobar." [Jobar is east of Damascus and is an area from which, I'm told, "rebels" have been launching mortars.]

Across the street, a clothes shop employee pretty much reiterated what I’d just been told.

“We were inside, heard the explosion, went outside and saw the dead lying on the ground. We get these mortars all the time.”

This man was more decided about by whom the mortars were being launched. “From the ‘Free Syrian Army’.”

“This isn’t a revolution,” the first man said. “They’ve come from outside. Do you know how we were living? We had security, work… but, sorry, now…?

A juice vendor who gave me a glass of freshly pressed orange and grapefruit juice some nights ago waved me over to say hello as I walked back to my hotel.  Sitting outside his small booth, he lamented the Syria of more than three years ago.  “This area would be alive until 5 am,” he said, gesturing to “Straight Street” leading from Bab Sharqi (East Gate) to the Hamdiyeh market and on. “There was live music in the hadika there,” he said, pointing to a long grassy patch flanked by the remains of Roman columns. “Tourists came, they loved it. Now, no tourists.  You could walk home or go out in the late hours of night, without fear of mortar attacks or being kidnapped,” he said, echoing what so many have told me.

abuzz

Easter party, old Damascus.

Although Easter is over, people are still celebrating. My discount, old-city, gorgeous hotel is packed with revelers who apparently didn’t get a chance to party last night. No sleep for the non-partakers. The hospitable hotel owner invited me for a drink, despite me protesting weakly I needed to do some work. So I sat with him, watch another crowd of energized people take to the dance floor, no inhibitions.  Nightclub lighting and fake fog transformed the normally antique-looking dining hall. The party is apparently 120 people; yesterday was  300+.

Loud music, sultry music, silly western pop music, 80s music (no Fatal Eclipse), but a broad mix, which seems to please all. Whistles, cheers, claps.

“I used to have more than that, every night,” my hotel-owner-friend says. “Tourist groups would arrive first, till about 8 pm. Then the locals came, till 3 am. I’d plea with them, ‘please, go home, we need to sleep.’ But they’d stay on. This is Syrian life.”

 

Easter celebration despite sordid realities, and other snippets from Syria

Christians in Damascus celebrating Easter, Syria, President Assad.

Christians in Damascus celebrating Easter, Syria, President Assad.

Now that I’m here as an independent (vs part of the delegation a large group of people from around the world, which I’ll address in another posting), I’m able to take a servis (shared minibus) or bus, am integrating with the locals. This is always better…chance to interact with people more, to also live more like they do, sweating in the over-stuffed bus stopped in a traffic jam, getting out of a seat to let a woman or elder sit down, watching Damascus roll past through the broad windows of the bus.

                              

I happened upon a mural I’d read about while in Canada, a Gaudi-esque wall of glitter, tiles, bits if recycled glass and other, keys, and other odds and ends. Fortunately, one of the murals’ designers was around and I got to chat with him. He basically said it was a project to brighten the spirits of children who are suffering from this situation here in Syria. To illustrate the psychological suffering that people are enduring, just now another loud blast of mortar, preceded ten minutes earlier, and so on. In fact, I spoke with a friend a little while ago who apologized for not answering his phone when I’d called this morning. “A mortar fell 50 meters away from where I was standing,” he said. There were injuries.

So the mural man and some of his buddies are doing their bit to make their world a better place, at least cheer up some kids. The mural decorates a long stretch of the wall surrounding an elementary school. As it turns out, it’s brightening many people’s spirits.
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brief updates from Damascus

This morning I heard the familiar shelling sounds of mortar being fired by “rebels” from the Jobar region (usually, sometime from other east-of -Damascus “rebel”-infiltrated areas) upon the city.  Later, scanning the news I read that one civilian was killed and at least two others injured in the at least seven mortar attacks near Dar al-Salam school and al-Zablatani area (not far from where I am staying, less than 1 km from here). The school is in an area not far from where the Peace Delegation stayed a week ago. Damascenes are living under daily attacks by these unguided but lethal mortars.

Later, I talk with a man from Aleppo. When I asked him about the situation there, he replies, “there’s little food, we’re besieged,” he says, making the same hand-motion of being locked in I make when talking about Gaza. I ask from who. “The ‘rebels’,” he says. He isn’t jovial like the people I’ve been seeing here in Damascus, who are further removed from the atrocities of the “rebels”. I ask if I can conduct a formal interview with him. Shakes his head, “they’d cut my head off it I did.” Ask if he knows people who’ve been decapitated by the “rebels.” Shakes his head yes, “ay, nam.” Yes.

 

see also:  Eye Witness Reports on Syria

Damascus churches and Patriarch Laham’s message for peace

On Apr 13, the Peace Delegation visited Damascus’ old city’s Zeitoun church where Patriarch Laham spoke on many things, prominent among them peace in Syria.

Being a non-church-goer, but having delved into services here and there, I was greatly moved by the devotion of the congregation, and the musicality of their singers.  Laham’s message was of reconciliation for Syrians, which I in my own way pray will occur.

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morning conversation with a Sunni Damascene woman

the lovely, but empty of tourists, hotel I'm staying in, in the old city of Damascus

the lovely, but empty of tourists, hotel I’m staying in, in the old city of Damascus

We’re sitting in the cafe of the ancient home-hotel I’m staying in for a ridiculously cheap price. I’m surround by arches, wooden beams, wrought iron decor, vast ceilings and windows, daylight and call-to-prayer and church bells filtering in.  Fairouz graces the space, her lilting voice a morning ritual.

If it weren’t for the sordid reality of the various attacks on areas throughout Syria by so-called “rebels”…. pause, another round of mortar attacks just now…it would be paradise.  As it is, the people I’ve been meeting the last ten days have been as lovely and gracious as the Palestinians I’ve met over the years in occupied Palestine.  And similarly, they are living under a siege… sanctions on the state which are one of the reasons life has gotten so expensive here (other reasons being “rebels” taking over factories, particularly in the north, I’m told, taking over petrol stations, taking over medicine factories…), but in spite of the higher cost of living for these people whose salaries don’t now suffice (despite free education and health care here), they are generous, as the Palestinians under occupation.

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I’m talking with Qamar (which means moon) Oudabachi, a Sunni woman who lives in the Mezze area of Damascus but works at the hotel.  She is stylish, confident, not oppressed in the least. She speaks a bit of English, but we’re conversing in Arabic.  The accent is different than my Gazaowi-accustomed ears can handle, so I have to ask her to repeat, slow down, many times, to make sure that I understand her anecdotes. At one point I jokingly ask her if anyone in the Syrian government has put a gun to her head, to force her to speak as she is speaking, to which she laughs and replies definitely not.

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some news bites and a little inspiration, from Gaza

THE UGLY

Rafah crossing closed for 81 days in 2014

Israeli forces injure 4 Palestinians in shootings near Gaza border

“We leave without expecting to return” – meeting the firefighters of Gaza

80% of Gaza factories not working

Gaza runner denied entry to West Bank for marathon

– Palestinians mourn woman who died after inhaling tear gas

**There is a lot more ugly imposed on the lives of Palestinians in Gaza, but I have limited time to seek this out at present.  In terms of news on Palestine, this site has frequent updates from a variety of sources.

 

THE GOOD

“Happy From Gaza”: the ever-wonderful Gangnam Gaza Style group has a new, uplifting (despite it all.  Gaza IS suffering, but these young Palestinians are trying to share the resilient, patient, and quirky nature of Palestinians, and do so very convincingly)

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children injured by “rebel” shelling of Manar school, Damascus

On the morning of April 15, “rebels” in Jobar district east of Damascus shelled a Damascus elementary school, killing one child and injuring at least 62 more, some of whom are critically-injured, some of whom lost limbs. A second school–a kindergarten–was also shelled the same morning, in the same densely-inhabited Christian area of Damascus, injuring 3 more children.

 

see also:  two schools shelled in Damascus, killing one child and injuring 65 more