‘My son was killed here and I will stay here until I die too’
It’s hard to understand how anyone other than soldiers could live in Tadamon now. The houses lie in ruins, rubble and shards of glass spilling across the streets. Someone sprayed bullets into a mural of Spongebob next to the old nursery school. A tattered Syrian flag has been strung across the road.
Yet down a side street, sitting on plastic chairs, we found Mohammed Hamad and his wife Fauzia. In their 60s now, they could think of nowhere else to go. They had returned to their home, which had been spared the worst of the damage, after the army retook the suburb a year ago. None of their neighbours had made the same choice.
“It’s a strange existence, like living in a desert,” he said. “There’s no-one to talk to, and share your feelings with. If anyone died here, no-one would see him. There are no people. But we are here, although everyone else is scared and has run away from the terrorists.”
I think Mohammed would have left if Fauzia hadn’t insisted on staying. She pulled me towards her, kissed me on both cheeks and started to cry. Her son, Yahya, had been killed in Tadamon – that’s why she wouldn’t leave. She took me into their living room and showed me his picture – smart in his uniform – on the wall.
“I feel comfortable and safe here. My mind is at ease. My son was killed here and I will stay here until I die too,” she sobbed.
Syrian government forces have been making gains in the southern suburbs of Damascus over the past few weeks, but in Tadamon the frontline has moved only a couple of blocks in a year.
A group of young soldiers, some members of the paramilitary National Defence Forces, in half-uniforms with trainers on their feet, pushed their Kalashnikovs through holes they’d knocked in the walls of an abandoned apartment.
They were aiming at the rebel held suburb a few yards away where young men in similar garb, living in similar abandoned, shot-up concrete apartment blocks were presumably pointing back. The only difference was one lot were called soldiers, the other, rebels. At this level, right and wrong, and all the causes of war have little meaning – it is just young men killing each other.
The suburb of Sbeneh was occupied by the rebels for seven months. Government forces regained it two weeks ago. I drove in with a military escort, past huge fields of cables – this had once been the largest industrial cable plant in the country. Rusted trains stood silent and immobile.
The soldiers kicked their way through powdery flour, a soft carpet in the trashed Dari Biscuit Factory. This was once a place where thousands lived and worked. Now it gives a new meaning to the phrase “industrial wasteland”.
A battered old orange car drew up, with three kids in the back, mum, dad and the baby in front. They had fled Sbeneh a year ago, he said, and were coming back for the first time to see if their home was intact. As they drove off, down another street littered with rubble and glass, I wondered how any Syrians, whatever their religion or political allegiance, would ever be able to live a normal life again.
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