While Parliament’s decision not to intervene militarily in Syria continues to dominate discussions in Britain, it has made little difference to Syrians who were bracing themselves today for potential air strikes from a much more powerful force.
“The big devil is America,” said Sari, 27, one of several hundred supporters of Bashar al-Assad protesting outside the hotel where the UN chemical weapons inspectors are staying. He insisted he would not alter his plans for the weekend, despite the impending threat of air strikes.
Some in Damascus have resolved to carry on as normal, while others are stocking up on supplies, fearing the worst. “I’m going to eat beans and yoghurt for breakfast, then hang out during the day and play cards till late at night,” Sari said, becoming more resolute in his defiance.
“It’s not a shame if an enemy comes to your land. The shame is to let him leave in one piece, and we are not men of war, but if war is forced upon us, we are the war masters.”
After his home in Barzeh was bombed and looted by the rebels, his family moved to the “security block” of Damascus, an area packed with military targets. But he said he was not relocating or stocking up on food. “I am living history,” he explained. “I don’t care much about my safety compared to what is going to happen to Syria.”
Others were not so sure. Many in the capital queued to buy food, water and medicine. Those trying to buy a loaf of bread reportedly waited in line for up to four hours.
Another resident of the security block, a 30-year-old advertising executive, said many people had evacuated but she would stay put, expressing the hope that the strikes would target Assad only. “If we are meant to die, we will die no matter where or when,” she said.
Others were preparing to move to basements and shelters while many seemed unsure of what to do. The capital last faced military air strikes in 1973.
As Damascus prepared, fresh footage has emerged of the devastation inflicted by Assad’s troops. The BBC has aired shocking footage of the aftermath of an incendiary bomb at a school in northern Syria. The attack killed 10 people and left scores with napalm-like burns.
There has been no official reaction to Britain’s vote from the Syrian President’s office, while Russia welcomed the rejection.
In a speech to staff on Thursday evening, President Assad reiterated that Syria would be victorious, according to the local Damas Post. “This is a historical confrontation from which we will come out victorious,” he was reported as saying, adding that he had been waiting for foreign intervention since the beginning of the crisis.
Opposition activists were disappointed with the British vote and were worried that military strikes might not happen at all. One activist, Bassam, said: “We were hoping for a different vote and we are shocked.”
The UN chemical weapons inspectors spent today at a military hospital in a government-held area of Damascus, visiting soldiers affected by an apparent chemical attack. Some of the inspectors left the country today, while those remaining will leave this morning. They will report their findings over the weekend.
Any US missile strikes could send Syrians flooding across the border to Lebanon, an hour’s drive from Damascus. The small country, which already hosts more than 1 million Syrians, has contingency plans for roughly 50,000 people entering in a single day. Some 12,000 refugees entered the country on Thursday, twice as many as usual.