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Syrians in Damascus tense amid airstrike threat

September 1, 2013 Jacob Wirtschafter and Jabeen Bhatti, Special for […]

1 September 2013

September 1, 2013

Jacob Wirtschafter and Jabeen Bhatti, Special for USA TODAY

This article featuring Syria Direct reporting originally appeared here

AMMAN: Residents in the capital city of Damascus, Syria, say the mood is tense as they anticipate a Western airstrike.

On Saturday, some waited in long lines for bread while others, frustrated, searched for flashlights and batteries, sold out in many shops. Most, though, stayed home, bracing for strikes they expect will come sooner rather than later.

Syrians say there’s also confusion over what to do as the U.S. threatens to respond to an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1,400 in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21.

Thousands have fled to the Lebanese and Jordanian borders, taking shelter in schools and sometimes sleeping under the stars. Meanwhile, family members across the world pleaded with those still in Damascus to leave.

“My grandmother says she’d rather die in Syria than become a refugee elsewhere,” said Abdulwahab SayedOmar, a Syrian opposition activist based in London. “It was hard enough to get them to leave Aleppo for Damascus.”

Even so, some Syrians say they hope Western military forces act soon.

“We are not afraid of the next step — the worst thing is to keep Assad in power,” said Sami Ibrahim, an opposition activist in Damascus. “After that, things become easier.”

On Friday, the Obama administration released a four-page report summarizing its case against the Assad regime. The Syrian regime possesses the types of munitions that were used to carry out the attack on Aug. 21, which left more than 1,400 dead, including 429 children, the report stated. The regime also has the ability to strike simultaneously in multiple locations.

But despite calling for intervention, most opposition members oppose foreign troops on the ground.

“We must avoid what happened in Iraq,” said Abu Firas, a member of the opposition in Homs, referring to ongoing divisions and violence in that country.

Others say they worry that intervention will come only in the form of a limited strike.

“We don’t want a simple, short punitive strike, a slap on the wrist,” Sayed Omar said. “We want action that takes out Assad’s capabilities, ballistic missiles.”

Analysts expect that Western intervention might not necessarily mean the much-awaited end to the drawn-out, bloody conflict.

“The question is what happens the morning after,” said Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics. “It could be much worse than the situation before.”

But some locals say nothing will change without intervention in this conflict, which has killed more than 100,000 Syrians and forced almost 2 million more to flee the country.

“The Syrian people have lost hope and made a lot of sacrifices already,” said Nayeef Alsari, a member of the opposition in Daraa. “The military intervention could not be more destructive than what Bashar’s regime has already done to Syrians.”

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