x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Business as usual in Damascus as ceasefire falls

Damascenes, like other Syrians, realise it is too early to cast judgments about whether the United Nations peace plan will end a deadly year long crisis.

Life goes on as usual on the largely peaceful streets of Damascus as a UN-brokered ceasefire took effect yesterday across Syria.
Life goes on as usual on the largely peaceful streets of Damascus as a UN-brokered ceasefire took effect yesterday across Syria.

DAMASCUS // This city has not yet been hit with violence of the scale that other Syrian cities have suffered - the artillery barrages in Homs, the tank assaults in Hama - so it is perhaps no surprise that the start of yesterday's ceasefire had little visible impact on the Syrian capital.

The usual traffic jams, the usual shops open doing little real business as their proprietors drank coffee and complained about the economy, the usual government employees and students looking to cut out of work or classes early. The usual army checkpoints on the edge of town and usual plainclothes security agents patrolling the streets.

Syrians seem increasingly suspicious of lofty pronouncements, either by the government or the opposition, so talk of a theoretical ceasefire met with less immediate interest than the certain prospect of a long national holiday - a second Easter break that will stretch deep into next week.

But, at least when the electricity is working, this is a country addicted to television news, so the ceasefire did not pass unnoticed. Rather, Damascenes, like other Syrians, realise it is too early to cast judgments about whether the United Nations peace plan will end a deadly year long crisis, or will turn into another blood-soaked failure on the road to what already looks like a grim internecine war.

When there is shooting in Damascus, it tends to happen at night, or during the Friday protests that regularly take hold of Kafa Susa, Midan, Mezzeh or Barzeh, or any of the suburbs surrounding the capital, most of which are in a greater or lesser state of open-yet-suppressed revolt.

The crack of rifle bullets or darker thumps of heavy machine guns and explosions tend to split the night air here, rather than impinge on spring afternoons when people are eating lunch.

So yesterday, with all the talk of a partial observance of a ceasefire, was of passing interest to the cynical, fearful and, in some cases, still in denial residents of the Syrian capital. It was a moment of calm in the middle of a fierce storm.

Damascus residents will suspend comment on the ceasefire until after midday prayers today, say 3pm, even 5pm. By then the guns will have spoken or kept their silence for another precarious few hours and it will have become clearer if the UN peace plan is just more diplomatic, empty words on paper or actually exists in some form on the ground.

The city will surely not be surprised if today there are more protests and more violence. Perhaps even a bomb or two, blamed on Al Qaeda. All are to be expected a year into this uprising.

Least likely, but most fervently desired, is a quiet day without bloodshed, the kind of Friday the country hasn't known since last March.

psands@thenational.ae