As UN inspectors wrapped up their search for evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria, Damascenes braced for U.S. missile strikes across their country.
They stocked up on food, including staples such as bread, rice and water. Traffic on the streets, which are usually crowded in the summer evenings, is sparse after dark and people debated whether the U.S. would follow through on its threat.
“I watch talk shows and listen to analysts to try to understand what’s going on and guess what will happen,” said Adel Mustapha, 52, who works for a travel company. “Attacking Syria will be tantamount to terrorism.”
U.S. President Barack Obama said yesterday he hasn’t decided yet on a response after a U.S. intelligence assessment concluded with “high confidence” that the Syrian army used chemical weapons against its people in the Ghouta area, outside Damascus. At the same time, the departure today of the UN team investigating the allegations, which Assad denies, removed an obstacle to a military strike.
“We’re expecting it any minute now,” said lawyer Mahmoud Merei. His main concern is what happens after the strikes.
Syrian rebels are massing outside the capital and “there are fears that radicals will come into our city,” said Merei. “We don’t want the regime to go only to have it replaced with Tora Bora or Kandahar,” he said, referring to areas in Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban.
The Assad government has sought to reassure its people that it has the situation under control. As lines formed outside bakeries, Minister of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection Samir Amin called the hoarding of bread “unjustified.”
Prime Minister Wael al-Halaqi said the government is working hard to guarantee food and medical supplies and has strategic reserves of all products. He said bakeries will continue to work round the clock to meet citizens’ demands.
Around Damascus, Syrians were making plans to hunker down for at least the next few days. While some said news of a possible strike doesn’t scare them, “a few are hysterical,” said German Heike Weber, who has lived in Syria for about 30 years.
“They’re scared of the Americans,” Weber said. “They don’t know what their plans are.”
Weber has closed her handicrafts store on Old Damascus’ Straight Street for a week. Her Syrian staff were “worried that if the strikes take place, they won’t be able to go home,” she said.
Some Syrians were determined to live as normal a life as possible.
Ghassan Youssef, head of banquets at a Damascus hotel, said not a single wedding of about 12 planned for September has been canceled. He said he had no plans to stop the twice weekly entertainment program at one of the hotel restaurants.
Tony Ouba, a Syrian singer, took his three sisters to a pool in Damascus, joining scores of sunbathers and swimmers.
The prospect of a U.S. attack did dominate his conversation with friends, as they sipped vodka in the dry heat. Some believe the U.S. won’t strike, others that the attack will be limited, Ouba said by phone above the chatter of children splashing in the pool.
“They want to strike, they don’t want to strike, life must go on,” said Ouba.
To contact the reporter on this story: Donna Abu-Nasr in Beirut at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com