DAMASCUS: Leen, a young Syrian mother, hasn’t been to Damascus since 2015. After the war started seven years ago, her husband has dissuaded the 27-year-old from visiting the Syrian capital from Bahrain, where they live.
This year, however things are different. For the first Eid Al-Fitr, since the war started, many Damascus residents are celebrating with a sense of relief, unencumbered by the threat of rebel and extremist groups launching mortar attacks on the city.
“I am so thrilled to finally be able to spend a safe holiday in my hometown and introduce my little daughter to the family,” Leen told Arab News.
On May 21, the Syrian army announced that the capital and its surroundings were fully secure for the first time since 2011 after it cleared Daesh’s last strongholds south of the capital.
Even though central Damascus was relatively untouched by the violence, the capital been the target of missile attacks, mortar shells and vehicle explosions and the threat usually escalated during the holidays.
The areas captured in May included the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus, which was the site of an intense barrel-bombing campaign by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in the early years of the conflict.
And while Damascus may enjoy a relatively safe Eid this year, violence continues in other parts of the country, such as Afrin, which is under Turkish control, Idlib, and south-western Syria.
“On the first day of Eid Al-Fitr last year, while my friends and I were having lunch in Al-Qaymariyah— an ancient neighborhood in the Old City, we heard the whistles of missiles that then exploded nearby,” Zaid, a 28-year-old pharmacist, said. “Our families must have heard there were missiles, so all our phones started ringing and we were forced to request the bill and go straight home.
“I am very delighted nothing of the kind is likely to happen this Eid and I plan on going to Bab Tuma (an ancient city gate to Old Damascus), which was almost a daily target for the rebels’ missile attacks.”
Even children are feeling a difference this year. Fadia, 13, and her 8-year-old brother, Taym, wanted to spend the Eid playing outside.
“Mama never allowed us to go to amusement parks during Eid,” Fadia explained, “We only played inside at the mall or at home, where shells most likely cannot reach us.”
Nermeen Al-Kurdi, an agricultural engineering student who has been volunteering to help displaced families in Adra northeast of Damascus, said she could not go out ahead of the holiday because the streets were crowded with people and traffic.
“This is Damascus’s first safe holiday in years and everyone wants to go out,” she said. “Volunteer groups in Adra have put up slides and swings for the children of displaced families to enjoy Eid Al-Fitr after the war has deprived them of a normal childhood.”
But for many other Syrians, the suffering and horror of the conflict continued. Sandara Al-Moussa, an architecture student at Damascus University, believes this holiday won’t be any different for many families.
“Even though the last chapter of war in Damascus has been closed, many families won’t be able to enjoy this Eid because the war has deprived them of their loved ones and of happiness,” she said.
“The joy of Eid shines from within,” she said. “When a person is content knowing his family and loved ones are safe, they definitely will enjoy a blissful Eid.”
She pointed out that the Eid all Syrians await is the day the war ends in the country.
Eid was also a time to remember that millions of Syrians remain displaced, many of whom are seeking asylum in other countries.
In 2016, the UN identified 13.5 million Syrians requiring humanitarian assistance, more than 6 million of whom are internally displaced while almost 5 million are refugees outside the country. The war has killed more than 400,000 people, according to the last UN estimate in 2016 before the body said it was impossible to continue counting.
In March 2018, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported that more than 353,900 people,including 106,000 civilians, have died since the war erupted in March 2011.