Another day, another crisis. It looks like the Middle Eastern situation is escalating dangerously: yesterday, the Israeli air force bombed a military convoy near the Lebanese border, not far from Damascus. This entailed flying over Lebanese air-space, something the radical Hezbollah hardly appreciate. It seems little is advancing in Syria’s civil war, now nearly two years old, as the murderous Assad and his cronies cling to power. But when neighbours intervene, as yesterday, the whole region could blow up.
As the population suffers more and more during this bleak mid-winter, external aid that does filter through goes mainly to government-controlled areas, starting in the capital, Damascus.
Up in the rebel-controlled north, in Aleppo, the situation is dire. Those that can, escape over the border to Turkey to basic camps. Others depend on local volunteer groups dispensing the little community aid there is: some sacks of bread here, a bit of money there. Prices of basic commodities like bread and fuel have sky-rocketed, tipping many families – some of whom have lost a father or brother in the fighting and/ or their home – over the edge. And that’s not counting the psychological scars.
Looking back, yet again, at my pics of Damascus, I wonder how much has survived. The architectural beauty of the caravanserais, the lofty courtyard restaurants, the vaulted souk hung with heavy lanterns, the staggering scale and artistry of the 7th century Ummayad mosque, the richness of produce and food preparation – how much remains? And the people, with their immense dignity, how many of those I met can still work and feed their families?
So far, it seems the historical centre is untouched, although sporadic aerial attacks, anonymous car-bombs, assassinations and arrests (the modus vivendi of Bashar Al-Assad’s police state) seem to penetrate everywhere. A major hospital in the southern suburbs of the capital was hit in December, as was the Palestinian refugee camp, Yarmuk. The latter could make the blighted Palestinians refugees twice over, if they choose to escape. They can hardly go to Jordan – it’s full up, its resources stretched beyond the limit.
How things change so quickly. Four years ago, when I left Syria, I travelled effortlessly into Jordan by car to visit the spectacular Roman site of Jerash before continuing south. Today no doubt that same border is one massive traffic-jam, overflowing with wailing, bewildered kids and exhausted parents – some of the 700,000 Syrians who have already fled. Here’s part of Jerash – in more peaceful times.
Back to the 21st century, while Bashar remains oblivious to his people’s pain, the destruction of their homes and lives continues. All we can do is watch – and contribute to helping the refugees through charities like Save the Children or Oxfam. But it is much harder to reach the starving and/ or homeless Syrians who remain trapped inside their country.