‘The mood was one of resignation’: Death comes to Straight Street in Damascus

Patrick Cockburn sees five lives lost in the bombing of a Christian quarter of the Syrian capital

I was writing the accompanying article about the situation in Homs when there were a series of dull thumps near my hotel in the Christian Bab Touma district in the Old City of Damascus. The boom of artillery rounds going out and the sharper crack of mortar rounds coming in have become part of background noise in the Syrian capital, so I did not pay much attention. Then the phone rang and a friend said a suicide bomber had blown himself up a few hundred yards away outside the Naranj, a restaurant where I have often eaten, and the Greek Orthodox Virgin Mary church which stands opposite. Four people had been killed.

Almost all these early reports, aside from the number of dead, turned out to be not entirely true. I started to walk to the church. The explosion had happened in the Street Called Straight, of biblical fame, 100 yards or more from the Naranj and the church and was close to a Shia Muslim hospital, which might imply a sectarian motive for the attack. 

The first thing I saw on entering Straight Street was a white sheet covering a body. People would come up and flick open the top of the sheet to see if it was anybody they knew. There were local Christian militiamen from the National Defence Force keeping order but there was a mood of resignation rather than panic. I went to look at the place of the explosion where there was a dent about three inches deep in the pavement. It looked to me more like the detonation mark of mortar bomb than a suicide bomber. There was no blood around the spot as there would have been if someone had blown themselves up. It looked as if the mortar had been randomly fired into the Christian quarter by rebels who assume Christians, frightened of Islamic fundamentalism, are pro-government.

The force of the explosion had hit a curio shop for foreign tourists, wounding the owner in the leg. A few yards further on, the pavement was drenched with blood and I assumed somebody had died there. 

Witnesses are difficult to find in these situations because those truly close to the explosion are usually dead or in hospital. A man called Joseph Ballangi described how he had just parked his car and was walking away from when he heard the crash of the explosion. We had just finished talking when there was sharp crack of a mortar bomb exploding nearby and the militiamen told everybody to go inside.

I went and sat in the entrance passage of a house. Walking home I stopped for an orange juice at the Naranj restaurant which remained resolutely open. I asked if anybody had been injured in the second explosion and was told a woman had been killed, bringing the total number of dead to five.

Syrian rebels will get ‘CIA arms’ in Jordan

The CIA has begun transferring weapons to Jordan in readiness to send them to “vetted” groups of Syrian rebels, US officials have told the Wall Street Journal. The consignments – which are being moved from a network of secret warehouses – are expected to comprise light weapons and possibly even anti-tank missiles, and could be in the hands of the Free Syrian Army in time for an offensive against regime forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad by the beginning of August.

CIA agents are to spend two weeks vetting the rebel groups and training them how to use the equipment before they cross the border into Syria. The report claims that the US is in talks with European countries including France, which could also move weapons to Jordan.

Saudi Arabia is also expected to arm a group of hand-picked opposition fighters, and the US will attempt to keep track of the equipment in an attempt to stop it reaching Islamist groups. A “few hundred” rebels equipped in this way would join the fight every month. The US officials believe that within a few months this will begin to make a material difference on the ground.

One European nation that looks unlikely to join the push is Germany. Today Chancellor Angela Merkel told her parliament that she understood why some Western powers wanted to arm the rebels, but that in her opinion the risks of doing so would be “incalculable”.

News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker