What is Behind Checkpoints Removal Plan?

Damascus Residents are Optimistic and Afraid

Damascus Residents are Optimistic and Afraid

Enab Baladi Enab Baladi
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An officer at a checkpoint in Baghdad Street, Damascus - 21 August 2013 (AP)

 

On the way to incorporating an aspect of “restoring security” and achieving “greater comfort” for the citizens, the concerned authorities have recently implemented a plan, which was announced by the government of the Syrian regime, to remove “unnecessary” checkpoints from the streets of Damascus and other Syrian provinces.

While the number of fixed checkpoints in the capital and its surroundings is 300, according to the estimations of activists, the province of Damascus started on Wednesday, June 28, removing one of them, in addition to eliminating cement blocks overlooking the governorate square. The checkpoint is located at the street stretching from Al- Thawra Street towards Al- Bahsa Street till the government building .

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Optimism Engulfs the Street . . . Waiting for Promises

There were signs of optimism in the Syrian street about the new plan which gave citizens hope to restore their freedom of movement and get rid of the traffic jam caused by barriers and checkpoints. Although these plans are not implemented in reality, except for the aforementioned checkpoint, they were optimistic and relied on the statements of Alaa Munir Ibrahim, Governor of Rif Dimashq province, in his interview with the local newspaper “Al Watan,” on Thursday (June 29).

Ibrahim explained that the plan to remove many of the barriers and cement blocks aims to open the streets so as to “bring some comfort” to citizens, especially in Rif Dimashq areas, where safety prevailed again. He noted also that the government will only keep the “necessary” checkpoints surrounding the capital since they “sustain security.”

On her part, Safa (a pseudonym), a resident of the Al- Zahera neighborhood in Damascus, expressed her optimism about the new plan to remove barriers from the streets and considered it as an important step to avoid what she called “suffering” in moving from one area to another. “We hope that this is true, people are tired of this crackdown,” she added

Safa explained to Enab Baladi that since the beginning of the construction of the security barriers, people have avoided unnecessary visits and movements between the capital’s areas so that they do not spend half of the time at the checkpoints, while most of them prefer to go on foot or by bike to avoid the vehicles queue waiting at the checkpoints.

She mentioned what occurred to her when she was late for the wedding of her relative saying: “I was late for the wedding. I had to get out of the taxi that is caught in the traffic jam and walk on foot beyond the checkpoint, then to get in another taxi and get out of it at each checkpoint, and so on till I arrived,” said Safa.

The number of military personnel at each checkpoint ranges between five and 20, most of them wearing full field uniforms and standing behind a barrier made of sandbags. They check cars’ trunks back and forth and ask for identification as well as pose security questions. Then, car queues begin to rise increasingly.

Has the Syrian Regime Secured the Capital?

Supporters of the Syrian regime are increasingly concerned about its ability to secure the capital from whom they describe as “armed” individuals, in case the security barriers are removed from the streets of Damascus.

The governor of Rif Dimashq, however, said that the Ministry of Interior of the Syrian regime coordinates with the specialized security authorities to implement the plan so as to remove the barriers accurately “to avoid any violations.” He pointed out also that the study of the areas and the need for easing barriers is occurring in a consecutive way.

The removal of barriers reflects last year’s field developments when al-Assad’s forces, with the help of Russian air forces, secured the area of the capital and its surroundings through recuperating areas formerly controlled by the opposition in Damascus countryside, either militarily or through “displacement compromises.”

The operations of the regime started securing the capital through emptying the city of Darya of its people after the Committee of the Representatives of the Factions and the Events of the city of Darya had reached an agreement with the regime in 26 August 2016 to empty the city and to move all fighters to the north of Syria.

The regime continued the same policy in Barzeh, Qaboun, Madaya, Wadi Barada, Zabadani, Khan al-Sheikh, Qudsia and other areas of Rif Dimashq, amid the prevalent assumption that the capital was almost completely secured. The eastern Ghouta and the Jobar neighborhood were still held by the opposition factions while Yarmouk camp, south of the capital, is still controlled by the “Islamic State.”

Activists expect that the removal of barriers from the streets of the capital will be followed by the tightening of restrictions at the level of the barriers which are close to the areas controlled by the Syrian opposition factions.

“Temporary” Barriers Raise Concerns more than “Fixed” ones

While some people prefer to remove the barriers from the streets of Damascus, Abu Mazen, a resident of the Rokn al-Din neighborhood, believes that it is difficult to implement the plan at this time. He stresses that removing one barrier is not enough as it represents just “the tip of the iceberg,” referring to the fact that no matter how many barriers will be removed, the number of existent ones will remain high.

However, his only son Mazen had another point of view which emphasizes his friends’ “fear” of the spread of temporary barriers, which are locally known as “non-permanent” barriers, after the removal of the permanent ones.

Some Syrians consider the regime’s plan to remove barriers to be a “calculated” plan and has “other purposes.” Actually, the regime intends to give freedom of movement to young people who are required for compulsory service, but then withdraw it through temporary checkpoints.

“The permanent barrier can easily be avoided by the wanted people,” said Mazen the 28 years old employee at an engineering firm. “However, the temporary barrier is unpredictable at any time and place and can emerge suddenly,” he continued.

The Syrian regime’s plan is not only to remove barriers in the capital, but also in Tartus, Latakia, Homs and Hama. It removed at least three checkpoints in Hama, two in the downtown ​​Assi area and the third at the Engineer Circle in the Shariat neighborhood.

Similar checkpoints were also removed in Tartus, on 28 June, according to local pro-Syrian regime Facebook pages.

The first military checkpoint was deployed by the regime in Syria in the city of Douma, eastern Ghouta, on April 24, 2011. The security forces decided to cut the main road leading to the city in Rif Dimashq after the outbreak of the popular anti-regime protests in March of the same year.

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