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.
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.