Damascus at noon… while chatting with other journalists outside a Russian-run cafe a soldier bursts forward and shouts: “go in! go in and shut the door!” After a moment’s pause, we go in and the cafe owner calmly closes the door, as the soldier urged. A few minutes later we go back to our seats outside and continue talking. It is the most tense moment of my first day in the Syrian capital.
In recent weeks bomb attacks, sporadic fighting in several neighbourhoods and the assassination of three top officials has deeply undermined stability and security in the city. Now high protective walls can been around government buildings and checkpoints and barricades are a feature of everyday life. Military and intelligence officials check people’s ID and carry out thorough vehicle searches. As I write explosions can be heard in the city centre.
But despite all this, it cannot be said that Damascus is an epicentre of violence. People are still in streets, life is going on. Most of the shops are open and there are no signs of food shortages. Electricity and gas supplies remain unaffected.
The city is a stronghold of the regime. Many people here are supporters of President Assad’s rule and they believe the problem will be solved in Aleppo, not in Damas. People tell me “big things will happen this week in Aleppo. Wait and see.”
However, a Czech journalist who has spent the last four years in Syria thinks the crisis may not end so soon last longer: “It can last months, even years,” Lukas Goga says. The situation in Syria, from inside, is perceived very differently from outside.
The conflict is the top issue for many regional and global powers. Iran is very active in supporting the Syrian government. After a meeting with President Assad senior Iranian diplomat Saed Jalili held a press conference at the Iranian Embassy. He talked about a “Western conspiracy against Syria, due to its support of the Palestinian cause.”
He said: “the solution must come from within Syria. No outside intervention is acceptable. Political dialogue must be formed between the sides. The problem must be solved through the ballot box, not with the guns.”
Like everyone else Iranians are also anxiosly waiting to see what will happen in Aleppo this week.