Syrians return to their badly damaged homes as ceasefire makes streets safe again

 

Damascus

For the first time in the Syrian civil war a ceasefire agreement in a Damascus district sees rebel fighters keep their weapons and control of their own neighbourhood in return for an end to the fighting. If repeated in other parts of Syria, such agreements have the potential to de-escalate violence that has left 130,000 Syrians dead.

A ceasefire was taking hold over the weekend in the district of Barzeh in north Damascus, which has been besieged for at least nine months. A Free Syrian Army leader, who gave his name as Abu Hamzeh, said: “We made a reconciliation agreement to stop the rivers of blood that have flowed in Barzeh.”

Most buildings in Barzeh, which once had a population of 50,000 people, have been badly damaged or destroyed by bombs or shells, which have left apartment blocks gutted by fires and thick concrete floors smashed to pieces. Hundreds of refugees who returned to Barzeh yesterday after months away were visibly distraught at the massive damage to their homes, which had in many cases been looted.

A senior leader of the Free Syrian Army, called al-Kal, said that under the terms of the agreement, “I am expecting the government to release about 350 prisoners from Barzeh, but all we have got so far is three dead bodies.” He complained that the government checkpoints around Barzeh were not letting through trucks containing foods as promised. On the other hand, government soldiers have pulled backed from some strong points.

Al-Kal said the shooting could start again, but the FSA, Syrian army soldiers and the returning refugees did not look as if they expected more fighting. Municipal employees were working on pylons so electricity supplies could be reconnected after months without it.

Tony Blair: Global strategy needed to defeat religious extremism

A doctor, who did not want to give his name, said that during the siege there was food from the stocks of those who had fled, but no fresh vegetables or fruit. He showed a picture of a baby wounded in an explosion whom he had tried to treat with inadequate medical supplies. Abu Hamzeh said about 250 people including women and children had been killed in the siege. 

What has happened in Barzeh is important because Damascus has many rebel-held districts blockaded and bombarded by the Syrian Army. In most cases much of the civilian population has fled, though in Barzeh, FSA commanders claimed that 25,000 had remained. Given the scale of the destruction this looks like an over-estimate. Though food supplies had been limited, nobody on the street looked malnourished and al-Kal said they had not been starving.

There have been many truces and unofficial ceasefires in the Syrian war, but this appears to be the first time FSA men keep control of their district. In theory they are part of the National Defence Force but they spoke of themselves as belonging to the FSA. Asked if his men had given up their heavy weapons, al-Kal said: “It was the government that asked for an agreement, not us, and we keep our weapons.” He said local fighters would keep out “foreigners” which may be a reference to other rebel fighters.

UK plans to take in the ‘most vulnerable’ Syrian refugees

Although the ceasefire had been in force for some days we did not find it easy to enter Barzeh despite official government permission. Ultimately, we drove down a road through a rocky ravine on Mount Qassioun, overlooking Damascus. There were FSA men standing with Syrian Army soldiers at a checkpoint, one of whom took us to a badly damaged mosque inside Barzeh. Here we met Abu Hamzeh and later al-Kal, who was at first suspicious, but later took us on a tour to see the destruction.

It is all the more striking because rebel-held Barzeh is surrounded by undamaged neighbourhoods where life goes on as normal.

Could similar agreements be reached in other parts of Syria? The Syrian government has proposed a ceasefire in Aleppo, but after three years of war the two sides are divided by hatred and fear. It would be difficult to reach an accommodation where jihadi groups are an important element of the local opposition.

 

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Sport
Chelsea's Loic Remy opens the scoring
footballLatest score and Twitter updates from the Champions League tie at Stamford Bridge
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
football

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
music
Life and Style
Designer Oscar de la Renta takes a bow after showing his Spring 2015 collection in September, his last show before his death
fashionThe passing of the legendary designer has left a vacancy: couturier to America’s royalty, says fashion editor Alexander Fury
Life and Style
tech

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind'

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are