23 Jul 2012

After the Battle of Midan

The banality of daily normality returns to the capital of Syria. This morning no distant explsion. No helicopter gunship overhead spitting machine gun rounds into the dusty suburbs. And the infamous traffic-jams are snarling the place up in the searing summer heat.

And then….and then…carefully you edge towards Midan, a key suburb where fighting was happening only yesterday afternoon.

Suddenly the traffic melts away. There are distant army checkpoints and that’s how we like to keep them – distant. Local knowledge is essential and essential that our guide remains anonymous too as we edge through narrow ancient streets into the maze that is Midan.

And suddenly you are in, beyond the military machine of President Assad. It is so quiet here now you can hear the doves cooing on the broken telegraph poles.

A man approaches.  “Please – no camera,” he shouts. Is he a secret policeman /are we not clear of the government forces as we thought? No – just another terrified local.

Terrified to be seen but desperate to tell: “They used cannons, mortar, machine guns, tanks, they used helicopters – they use everything against us, ” he cries, waving his hands in despair at all around him.

Splash marks

Cars blown sideways, weird flower-like splashmarks for tank shells as they pierced blocks of flats, the hiss of burst water-mains squirting pristine drinking water into streets of dust, rubble, rotting food and rotting people – for there are bodies still to be collected from under the pulverised houses and flats.

Another man approaches. This time he will talk if we film him from behind. He speaks precisely of a massacre of a particular family. Sixteen people and he names the family too. All killed by the hated ‘shabbiha‘ – the pro-Assad militia men.

It is the story we heard in Al Houla several weeks ago. The familiar pattern of heavy shelling and bombardment followed by militia going house to house looting and massacring.

In another part of the district of Midan, another man approaches saying there is video of the aftermath. WE exchange details. He too says sixteen people – no more, no less, and giving the same name of the family.

So I just find myself standing in the dust and pulverised lives and homes and looking out at these welcoming, beaten people and thinking how much more do I have to criss-cross this country and hear the same story each time: the shelling…the people flee…the militias come in…the killing starts of anyone left behind?

Painful repetition

How many more independent witnesses telling the same story – always pointing the finger at the same militia group? There is a clear pattern here and I’ve probably witnessed as much of it now as most other people in terms of what ordinary Syrians say is happening in their country. And the pattern is obvious and clearly ever more in its painful repetition from place to place.

We drive slowly away and within a few hundred yards out of the world where the anti-Assad grafitti is meticulously painted over by the army in dull green-grey paint, to the worldof wide boulevards, normal traffic and the vast poster and mural to Bashar al-Assad at every turn and in every shop and office.

But the rubble remains. The stain on the nation is there. The rebel fighters’ puny barricades were overrun with ease by Syrian’s military might by land and by air.

Yes – the Battle of Midan has been won. The war, is quite another matter.

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