Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Some of the hundreds of civilian men, women and children who died in a bloody door-to-door killing spree by government forces were buried in this mass grave in Daraya.
Some of the hundreds of civilian men, women and children who died in a bloody door-to-door killing spree by government forces were buried in this mass grave in Daraya.

Daraya massacre fails to stir Damascus

The shock of discovering such horrific bloodletting on the capital's doorstep could have sparked a massive rebellion against the Assad regime, yet central Damascus carries on very much as before. Phil Sands reports from Syria.

DAMASCUS // Despite its huge scale and proximity to the centre of Damascus, the killing of up to 350 people in Daraya seems unlikely to prove a dramatic watershed in the struggle for Syria, beyond pushing it further down the dark path towards sectarian civil war.

Both those supporting President Bashar Al Assad, and those backing the uprising against him, may have had reason to hope the assault on Daraya would serve as a turning point in their favour.

As news of the mass killings spread, some activists believed the shock of discovering such horrific bloodletting had been committed on the capital's doorstep would finally spark a massive, open rebellion against the authoritarian regime in Damascus.

However, rather than taking to the streets in large numbers, holding a citywide strike or even a collective minute of silence out of respect for the dead, central Damascus carried on very much as before.

Its sprawling working-class suburbs may be besieged by tanks and bloodied, but the crucial upper- and middle-class core of the city, publicly at least, remains unmoved and disconnected.

"After I heard about the Daraya massacre I hoped Damascus would finally stand, that it would say 'enough is enough'," said a city resident of the wealthy Abu Rumaneh district who has long backed the uprising. She asked not to be identified.

"It's so depressing that nothing has changed. Most people in Damascus are sick of the regime and believe it has failed, but they are still prepared to sit and watch in silence as it kills their countrymen," she added.

For the regime, military operations in Daraya were supposed to stop armed rebels gaining a strong platform from which to launch a new assault on the capital.

State-run media claimed "a large number of terrorists" had been "cleansed" but there is little reason to expect it will be more than a temporary setback to the rebels.

Already some of the government troops taking part in the operations have been pulled out and apparently redeployed, as loyalist forces are once again sent to face a growing rebel threat to the east of Damascus.

Speaking before the Daraya siege, opposition figures in the town had said they believed government troops were stretched too thin to control all of the restive districts surrounding the capital.

"They can hit and hold one area at a time but they cannot face us if we all fight at the same time, so that is what we will do," a rebel in Daraya had said. "We know they will come here and they will hit us, but they will have to leave again to hit the next place and each time they go, we get stronger."

Activists in Daraya say up to 350 people were killed in the assault, which began last Tuesday. One opposition figure in the town had previously put the number of Free Syrian Army rebels in Daraya at 2,000, another had said they number 3,000. If accurate, that means most of the rebel force survived the attack.

And, with women and children among those buried in mass graves on Monday, the assault may only have fuelled Daraya's determination to topple the regime.

The government thinks it has won a military victory in Daraya but it is mistaken - all it has done is make an even bigger enemy of 200,000 people who live right next door to Damascus," said a businessman who lives on the edge of the town.

"If the army killed 400 people in Daraya, it will now have ten or twenty times that number ready to fight it," he said. "These military operations provide no solution to the crisis, after each military victory, things just get worse."

It has also stoked sectarian tensions. Daraya, is a majority Sunni area - with some Christian residents - while the pro-regime forces accused of involvement in the killings are dominated by Alawites, the minority sect that makes up Syria's ruling elite.

A form of sectarian ghettoisation also appears to have commenced to the south of Daraya, where it borders the predominantly Druze and Christian town of Sahnaya.

Over the years the two places had become closely interconnected but they are now divided, a no-man's-land running between the two along the main road that marks their frontier.

To the north, sealed off by government troops, is Daraya. To the south lies Sahnaya, largely pro-regime in its politics and now defended by a regime-endorsed local militia, known as the "popular committee"'.

Druze men carrying assault rifles and shotguns man checkpoints designed to keep out unwanted strangers coming in from Daraya. Sunnis do live in Sahnaya and have not been forced to leave, but there is growing unease among their ranks over developments.

"There are Druze checkpoints now, and they look at our IDs and wave through the other Druze but look twice at all of the Sunnis," said a Sunni resident of the town.

"None of this makes any of us safer; it just makes the divisions worse," he said.


Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National