Hasan is purportedly an activist in Damascus who, from a building north of the city’s center, has been watching ongoing fierce battles between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and fighters of the Free Syrian Army for control of the Syrian capital. Check further below for his account, the second one this week. Click here for his first.
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Hasan in Damascus, July 18, 2012
I can see smoke over the city and I have heard unconfirmed reports that several buildings in southern Damascus have collapsed. The city looks more like a village in the desert than a capital of a country with millions of people.
People are staying indoors and are afraid to step outside. Mothers are afraid to let their children go out even to buy bread.
Also, there is a shortage of food in groceries. I had to visit more than four grocery centers to find tomatoes. Markets today are on partial or total strike. Some merchants were very afraid and they started to empty their shops.
Traffic police presence is becoming rare even in the main streets of the city. In some areas the drivers are not heeding traffic lights or rules. Schools are closed for the summer. Buses are still running and cell phones still work.
The streets are almost empty but you can see lines of cars at every checkpoint. For example, I’m now talking to you from a building near to a main street in the city center. I used to hear tens of cars passing by every minute. Now I can hear one car every minute or two.
“Traffic police presence is becoming rare even in the main streets of the city. In some areas the drivers are not heeding traffic lights or rules.” – Hasan in Damascus
Most people aren’t going to work and some companies have urged their employees to take leave and stay home. For example, three days ago, the mobile telecommunication company, Syriatel, closed its headquarters which is located to the south of Damascus on the Daraa-Damascus highway telling its employees to stay home “until further notice.”
In brief, it is a real war-like atmosphere in most neighborhoods and it feels like a curfew has been imposed in some areas of the city.
Sounds of shelling
Right now, several districts and neighborhoods are being shelled, such as Qudsayya in the northwest, Harasta in the north and.… oh God! I can hear an explosion now. It’s a deep sound and it looks like it’s about two miles away or so. Maybe from Kafarsouseh. Or maybe the sound is coming from artillery positions on Qasioun Mountain from where government forces are shelling Mazzeh.
We have more than 20 demonstrations against Assad every day in Damascus. Many of them are funerals of martyrs who were killed by shelling or succumbed to torture.
“I witnessed a reporter from the state TV, he was filming there and interviewing people. He was trying to show people that there is nothing going in Damascus. But just 200 meters away I saw a security bus and several security agents with their weapons…” – Hasan in Damascus
I can add that most people sympathize with FSA and many are helping the fighters. Demonstrations are taking place even under shelling or near clashes. People are not afraid anymore.
The fighting is still in progress in Homs and its suburbs, also Hama, and the conflict is getting larger and larger in Damascus and it looks like FSA brigades from other areas are coming for support.
Reports and rumors of Damascus bombing
I ventured out into the northern part of the city, the calmer part of the city, and I passed near the hospital where the bodies of the high-ranking officers who were reported killed [in the National Security Building blast] were allegedly moved. I saw security forces and traffic police blocking the way to the city center. The other route is more to the north near the presidential residence in the Mouhajirin district.
Also, I witnessed a reporter from the state TV, he was filming there and interviewing people. He was trying to show people that there is nothing going in Damascus. But just 200 meters away I saw a security bus and several security agents with their weapons and several fire engines passing by, and other security agents were stopping traffic for them.
I don’t know exactly what happened, but now there seem to be security forces everywhere. They are all on alert. Several major streets are blocked and there are checkpoints in many places. I had to pass through three security checkpoints. They inspected my car and every crevice in it. The last checkpoint was near the location of the reported bombing.
“No one can really confirm when these officials really died. There are rumors that two of them died two months ago.” – Hasan in Damascus
I can’t confirm any of the news about the blast, but several eyewitnesses told me that the area around the National Security Building was closed by security forces and ambulances rushed to the area and then left for a nearby hospital called Shami.
No one can really confirm when these officials really died. There are rumors that two of them died two months ago. The Free Syrian Army claimed they carried out an operation in which these high-ranking officers were targeted. The FSA said [Assad's security chief and brother-in-law] Assef Shawkat was among those killed.
Also, if it is true that some of these officers were killed months ago, then it is really stupid of Assad to announce that they were killed today at the very critical time when FSA forces are fighting inside Damascus and managing to stay inside several neighborhoods and to carry out several special operations in the heart of the city.
Rebel forces in control of some Damascus neighborhoods
It’s been about four days now that the government forces have been shelling several Damascus neighborhoods. It started in the south and now the operation has been broadened to the east and the northeast. Now my friends from the northwest are reporting several explosions that I can say come from the location of the Presidential Guard brigades on the south of Qasioun near the area of Dummar.
The Free Syrian Army is still holding onto Midan in the south and Tadamun in the southeast. They also have a strong presence in Qadam and Kafarsouseh in the south and Qaboon and Barzeh in the northeast. In those locations they are only controlling the side streets, not the main streets.
I don’t know how many FSA troops are here, and even if I did know, I couldn’t leak intelligence about the FSA. But I think there are thousands and maybe tens of thousands in the city and the suburbs.
Presidential Guard troops mobilized
Government troops are deployed in several neighborhoods around Midan and other locations where FSA fighters are present in large numbers.
Helicopters are flying over the city and shelling targets using medium machine guns. Snipers are deployed in all areas of the city, even in the city center.
The Presidential Guard consists of several units in addition to the 4th Division. They are fighting for Assad in the city and several other brigades are inside and around the city also.
Several [government] units have been recalled from Homs to the north of Damascus and FSA fighters bombed them with IEDs, I think, clashing with them on the Damascus-Homs highway. They also attacked busloads of shabiha buses coming from Tartus.
The FSA doesn’t have any tanks and even if the had some in their possession, they would be obliterated within minutes by government forces from the air. FSA fighters have only light weapons and some anti-tank weapons but they managed to inflict damage on some mortar projectiles and launchers.
“Several [government] units were recalled from Homs to the north of Damascus and FSA fighters bombed them with IEDs, I think, clashing with them on the Damascus-Homs highway.” – Hasan in Damascus
I didn’t see any of the shabiha roaming the streets yet, but I know one incident where shabiha – and I’m sorry to say especially Alawite shabiha – attacked the neighborhood of Qadam to the south and killed four unarmed young men before FSA fighters counter-attacked and forced the shabiha to retreat.
Rebels holding their ground
The fighting in Damascus is a turning point for sure. It may not be the last turning point but it surely is a very important one.
The FSA has proven they can enter the capital and hold some ground. They have conducted dozens of special operations inside the city despite the tight grip held by security forces.
Assad had to recall units from other areas. Also, the news of the last operation in which the government says several high-ranking officers were killed is a strong punch for Assad. The morale of his forces and supporters is really low.
I should also add that dozens, maybe even hundreds of defections occurred after the news of the bombing.
FSA fighters and many civilians celebrated in several areas, mostly inside homes. It is an indication that Assad’s fall is imminent, God willing.
Listen to a portion of Hasan’s recounting of events
David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.