A mood of fatalism and fear prevails in Damascus

Ian Black writes: On top of everything else, last week Damascus suffered its worst dust storm in decades. It shrouded the city in a yellowish haze that masked a pale sun and the top of Mount Qasioun, from where government artillery pounds rebel areas on the other side of town. Still, as soon as it ended, the Z-Bar, the famously raucous nightclub on the roof of the Omayad Hotel, started taking reservations for a party to celebrate the improving weather.

Less unusual were the huge traffic jams at the checkpoints controlling access to government offices, big hotels and the main shopping centre: an alert was on for a car bombing or suicide attack and every vehicle was searched by soldiers or scruffy militiamen in camouflage trousers and T-shirts. And, completely normally, mortars fired by what the government and media simply call “terrorists” continued to fall and kill ordinary people at random.

Earlier this year, the Syrian capital experienced a very heavy snowfall, adding to the misery of a conflict that has been tearing the country apart since 2011.

“We’ve got the war, and we’ve had the snow and the dust, so all we need now is a volcano,” quipped Nizar, a school teacher. In Britain and other European countries, sudden interest in the crisis has been sparked by refugees fleeing in ever larger numbers. But, in Damascus, talk of a solution seems remote, barely relevant to the daily struggle to get by. Life certainly goes on, but death is never far away.

“It’s getting worse – politically, economically, and of course in humanitarian terms,” said Samer, a businessman from one of the city’s old Sunni families and a discreet but fierce critic of President Bashar al-Assad. “I can see no way it will end any time soon.” [Continue reading…]

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