In mid-March 2017, new confrontations began between Assad’s forces and the free army a number of areas around Damascus. Those were difficult days for the city’s residents.
We didn’t expect the clashes to be more than a few mortar shells falling as usual. But over time, the violence began to increase and we could hear the sound of light and medium weapons from our house in al-Adawi, an area near al-Zabltani where the battles were taking place.
As the fighting became fiercer, time seemed to pass more slowly. We heard news of the closure of many roads around Abbassiyyin Square and noticed a huge increase in regime security forces, even though we still told each other, “It’s just a day and will pass just like any other day.”
Yet I was disappointed. The Free Army had not been able to progress, especially after losing several cities and towns in the Damascus countryside. Its control declined considerably in late 2016 and early 2017, compared to previous years in which we used to hear that they were seizing new regions from the Assad forces. Their retreat in the Damascus countryside wasn’t an isolated incident; the same was happening in the northern regions of Syria too.
Even as I tried to calmly analyse the scene on the ground, the real situation around me was full of terrifying shouts and explosions. My mother and I watched the street from the window of our house, how it was being emptied. The shopkeepers closed their shops and the vendors walked away.
My heart beat faster, especially since the al-Khatib security centre, a place where the regime tortured detainees, was located nearby in al-Adawi. Of course that would be a target for the Free Army. Some of their missiles went astray and fell either on the road or on the roofs of the buildings. The lucky ones were those who lived on the lower floors, unlike us.
On the positive side, we heard that some regime security forces were injured in the clashes, a rumour proved by the sound of ambulances coming from Abbassiyyin Square. This was good, the Free Army seemed to be hitting its goals.
But by sunset the battles were still raging. I saw the fear in my mother’s eyes. The situation was bad, it seemed to be going on longer this time. All we wished for at that moment was that a mortar shell wouldn’t miss its target and fall on our house.
So the first day of the battle drew to a close, although the sound of bullets and shells continued. Fortunately, the telephone lines were still working so we could reassure relatives living in other neighbourhoods. We could hear that there was fighting in their areas too, so we also wanted to call to make sure they were safe.
Communication with the outside world wasn’t easy, given the ongoing power outages – a result of the electricity rationing imposed on the capital. This hampered the charging of batteries because the current was interrupted for four hours throughout the day, which together with the fighting meant that duration of the outage was doubled to eight continuous hours.
Amid the electricity outages, the bad internet service, the ban on many websites and struggle to find out what was happening around us – we hear the news of the Free Army’s progress and we felt happy. Disappointment faded away.
But things changed. On the second day, shops were still closed, students didn’t go to school and the regime cut off streets to make people go through its roadblocks. The battles ended without any progress by the Free Army.
At the end of the second day, we discovered that this had just been another, passing, battle like all the previous ones. After six years of destruction, I don’t know when I will ever be rid of this feeling of disappointment.
Maram Saad, 25, was born in eastern Ghouta in the Damascus countryside. She was a volunteer in the Red Crescent for six years as well as an activist in Damascus, working with several local news agencies. In 2014, her father died in her arms as they left Damascus.