by Bas Spliet, Activist Post:
Damascus – I arrived in Damascus the day before yesterday, on 6 April. With the exception of the city of Douma, the whole of Eastern Ghouta had gradually come under the control of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) since the military started a major operation in February to take control of the insurgents’ last major stronghold in the northern vicinity of the Syrian capital. Fighters from Jaish al-Islam – the only remaining rebel group which, literally translated, means the Army of Islam – were being bussed to other rebel-held areas across Syria, and it looked like the final negotiations were under way. I figured that the last of the indiscriminate mortar shelling which had plagued Damascus over the last seven years had finally come to an end. Unfortunately, I was mistaken.
Soon, the news started pouring in that mutual bombing by the SAA and the rebels had resumed following the breaking down of the fragile truce due to internal disagreements amongst the foreign-backed militancy. According to the state-owned SANA news network, four civilians died and 22 were killed in the indiscriminate attacks targeting the capital’s civilian population of Friday, which was Good Friday for the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Yesterday, the agony and horror Syrians have to go through on a daily basis became painstakingly clear to me. Around 9 AM, I took a taxi from the city centre to the Ministry of Information, the government agency that supervises foreign journalists. As we approached Umayyin Square, soldiers waved their arms and ordered the driver to stop the car. A mortar had landed on the roundabout, destroying multiple vehicles. A severely injured man was bleeding on the ground. Confused, I got out of the taxi, and after the soldiers lifted him into the vehicle, the taxi driver I was just moments ago trying to converse with in my best Arabic drove him off to the nearest hospital. I don’t know if he survived.
After wandering around a bit, I got into another taxi and finally arrived at my destination. After I got all my paper work done, I got the opportunity to go to visit the al-Mwassat University Hospital, which is one of the three major Damascene hospitals where mortar victims are usually treated. Dr. Isam al-Amine, the hospital’s General Director Manager, related that said hospital alone had received 38 civilian victims on Saturday. Six were already deceased, and many were in critical condition and possibly will not survive. One of these was a man estimated at age 50 who remained unidentified, since he had no identification with him. His critical condition was caused by shrapnel hitting his head. According to Dr. Rin al-Sadad, another victim in critical condition was a 17-year-old girl who was currently being operated. In her case, the shrapnel struck her belly. A nurse who works at the hospital’s very same intensive care department that I was visiting lost her entire family in a mortar attack two years ago.
When we proceeded to the emergency room, the department chief related that the amount of Saturday’s dead received by the hospital had already reached seven. From him I also learnt that the maimed from the Umayyin Square attack I had witnessed earlier were treated there, in addition to the victims of mortar strikes in the neighbourhood of Mezzeh. I also had the chance to talk to a lightly injured man by the name of Abid Shalku, whose 25-year-old friend was killed by the Umayyin Square bomb. Another friend of his survived but lost his two legs. He described the experience as “worse than a nightmare.” He praised the people of Damascus for their steadfastness and brotherliness, though, since two civilian cars drove them to the hospital, which our translator from the Ministry of Information underlined is not an uncommon phenomenon in Damascus.