Enab Baladi Issue # 90 – Sun, Nov. 10, 2013
“Branch 215 Personnel” is engraved on a wall near Al Safsaf checkpoint which separates Qudsaya in the suburbs from the Syrian capital, Damascus.
When the checkpoint was set up months ago, guards used to check passengers’ IDs, search or frisk them, arresting and insulting some of them every now and then.
A couple of weeks ago, and on the first day of Aldha Festival new security measures were implemented tightening the siege on Qudsaya and Al Hameh, a nearby town. Passing through Al Safsaf checkpoint became totally subject to the officers’ mood frequently preventing civilians from passing. Sometimes private cars were only allowed to pass, whereas public transportation was blocked and civilians were forced to get off and walk the rest of the way; young, elderly, men, women and children all had to get off, no exceptions.
University students and government employees were no longer allowed to pass even when they showed their credentials. Enas who is a twenty-five-year old university student tried to pass the checkpoint walking in order to go to the university, yet she was not allowed; she implored one of the officers to let her pass but in vain. “As I insisted he loaded his gun and brandished it warning me and implying that I should leave or he would resort to fire”, said Enas.
Enas was one of many who had to return; some of them gave up hope of passing, others hoped that they would pass through Qudsaya Outskirts Checkpoint, through other means of humiliation however, says Enas.
The repressive security measures taken at the checkpoint were not the only way of tightening the ban on civilians there. A complete ban of bringing in bread or any other food supplies had been enforced as well. Enas reported that people were scarcely allowed to bring in supplies, and when they did so they were deeply humiliated and offended by regime officers in an attempt to implement the brutal dictatorship they had established during Assad’s rule.
According to Enas, as she was passing through the checkpoint the most painful moment was when a mother and her children were begging the officer to let them keep the apples they had brought. The mother’s begging did not affect the officers enough to allow them pass along with the 1 Kg of apples, yet they –the mother and her children- were allowed to eat them before they went on.
Another heartbreaking moment was when an old woman was trying to convince the officer that her children were starving and they needed the one loaf of bread she was carrying. Her attempts were in vain; the officer snatched the loaf and threw it away to land over the pile of food stacked at the roadbed.
Thirty-five-year old Asma’ who lives in Qudsaya and works in Damascus says “We don’t know the reason for this siege and systematic starvation; we’ve been deprived of our basic right of having bread and vegetables”.
Iman, a twenty-four-year old girl, lives in the area also, and due to the difficulty of passage out of the town and the harassment by officers at the checkpoint she moved to live with her relatives in Damascus in order to be able to arrive at her work in Mazzeh in Damascus, whereas her family are still inside their town, where they work.
It is not clear yet whether this siege and systematic starvation is punishment for the town which received many displaced people from several areas, or if it is the first step towards invading it.