Robert Fisk: Syria's newspapers trumpet an army victory but the sound of shellfire tells the true story

Sniper attacks prove that this war is far from over, writes Robert Fisk in Damascus

Share
Related Topics

All night and all day, the guns of Kassioun have been firing. At Dayara and Kfar Souseh and Qadam and Nahr Aisha, proof that the enemies of Bashar al-Assad have re-entered the suburbs of Damascus after the government's recapture of the capital last month.

The long boulevard out to Kfar Souseh, a district of new middle-class apartment buildings and old slums – some of them wooden 150-year-old Ottoman homes whose narrow alleyways are a playground for the rebels of Syria – was deserted yesterday. Only the fresh white-painted sandbags of the soldiers and militiamen controlling the highway prove that the battle has returned to Damascus.

The artillery on the mountain that towers above the city has been firing into Deraya – government soldiers have been padding the alleyways of Kfar Souseh, to little effect – but the armed fighters tormenting the army appear to have performed their usual tactic: they have fled to fight another day. The papers continue to trumpet the army's victories, but the shellfire that reverberates across the city tells a different story: that the war is not over, that the security the government promised has not been restored.

Since the Syrian air force's attacks have been largely confined to the north, France's warning that it might consider a partial no-fly zone over Syria cuts little ice in Damascus. The "last battle" for the capital, boasted by the opposition, was definitely won by the army in July but the bankrupt policy of storming the city – a sign of the Free Syrian Army's naivety – has been succeeded by the hit-and-run sniper attacks that have already taken hold in Aleppo. In such a scenario, tanks are useless, shellfire the sound of impotence.

In war, there's always a stage when the rhetoric fails to match the reality. In Aleppo, where the government claims to be winning, the battles continue. In Damascus, which the government believes it holds, the sniping continues the moment you reach the city limits. "I never thought I would see Syria turn so bad," a Syrian Christian friend told me. "We have had this kind of magical formula in Syria, to maintain a balance between all the minorities. To play up this balance is to blow up Syria."

This is not an exclusive point of view in the capital. We were passing the Derwishya Mosque – yes, home of the Whirling Dervishes – and turning right by a Syrian church, and the restaurants were packed with Christians and Muslims, prices ensuring a middle-class clientele but the customers proof that the sectarian conflict of the Syrian countryside has no more reached Damascus than it has Aleppo.

I fear that I sometimes spot these differences in embryo – a memory of the Balkan wars, perhaps, or just those random remarks from friends about the determination of Sunnis to destroy the Alawites if Assad should fall – but they have not emerged in the big cities yet. Tartous is regarded as the safest city in Syria, Idlib the least, along with Homs. These are the realities – not the West's warnings – that Syrians live with. In the café in which I lunched yesterday, a visiting Russian imam was espousing the benefits of Islam in a secular society to his government hosts – what else would he do? – while my friend tried to explain why Assad could not be overthrown.

"Three million Alawites would be slaughtered – along with the Christians and the other minorities, it would be a bloodbath," he said. I have heard this before, of course, along with the usual praise for Syria's system of education and healthcare.

A drive around the Damascus ring-road shows how the war touches the city. Two security ministries attacked with car bombs last month have been surrounded by barbed wire and armed men. Police stations in the capital are now acquiring those 14ft protective concrete walls so familiar in Baghdad.

The car bomb is a weapon of war, alongside the aerial fighter-bomber, the sniper and the T-72. How do you win?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

 

Ed Miliband's conference speech must show Labour has a head as well as a heart

Patrick Diamond
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments