Sammy Ketz, AFP
Last updated: 15 September, 2013

Relief and hope in Damascus after US-Russia deal

On the streets of Damascus, a US-Russian deal on Syria’s chemical weapons has brought relief and hope the end of the country’s devastating 30-month conflict may be in sight.

On Sunday, as children’s summer holidays drew to an end, the atmosphere was relaxed at the Garden of Liberty primary school in the upscale district of Abu Rummaneh.

“I’m not worried for the kids any more. The tension eased as war is no longer imminent. Life has gone back to normal,” said school principal Hala Tabaa.

Khulud al-Masri, a mother of two daughters, said her family is now “more relaxed”.

“May God calm everyone’s spirits and harm no one. But the sound of the bombings still scares my two daughters,” Masri said, as her girls aged five and three and a half played on swings.

Muna Ibo said she hopes the agreement will boost business at her beauty salon.

“We have more hope now, after this agreement. We might be able to see an end to terrorism and the troubles that we’ve had no part in creating,” said Ibo.

Ibo opened up her salon, Beautiful World, six weeks ago, she said, despite the conflict that has raged in her country for 30 months and killed more than 110,000 people.

“I hope Syria recovers, that we can go back to work and just keep on living,” she told AFP.

On the terrace of a nearby cafe, 40-year-old Hazem sipped coffee at a table with his wife and two sons.

“We pray to God for a solution to our problem,” he said. “This (US-Russian deal) is a good thing.”

President Vladimir “Putin is turning Russia into a great country again that plays a dominant role in the world,” added the banker.

“The deal will work because the Syrians are dying and suffering, while the economy is in ruins.”

The breakthrough US-Russian deal thrashed out in Geneva gives the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a week to hand over details of its chemical weapons stockpile.

The agreement is aimed at destroying Damascus’ chemical arsenal by the middle of next year, thus avoiding US-led military action.

Talk of a punitive US strike came after accusations against Assad’s regime of using chemical arms near Damascus on August 21, in attacks the opposition claimed killed up to 1,400 people.

Damascus has yet to react to the deal, and the local press reported on it without running any official commentary.

Pro-regime Al-Watan daily said “this agreement marks real progress in the Syrian crisis, after the gulf between the two countries (the United States and Russia) appeared enormous”.

The United States supports the revolt against Assad, while Russia backs the regime.

But the rebel Free Syrian Army rejected the deal shortly after it was announced, saying it “ignores… the massacres of our people” and provides no guarantees to bring Assad to justice.

The opposition meanwhile demanded a ban on Damascus’ use of ballistic missiles and its air power against civilians in urban areas, in addition to its chemical weapons.

In a Damascus nightclub, 36-year-old Wassim al-Sharif danced with friends to get his mind off the war.

The agreement, he said, was a “good solution” for the country.

“We lived in peace until this crisis. I used to live in the Palestinian Yarmuk camp, which is now completely destroyed. My family is scattered across the city and I live in a hotel,” added the legal adviser to the Damascus city council.

“It’s really awful when there’s no hope left.”

But Fuad, a 60-year-old engineer, believed “this agreement will have no impact on how (the war) in Syria develops.”

Still, he expressed hope that “the Russians and the Americans can agree on a solution to the crisis”.

Fuad saw the deal as “an international agreement to protect neighbouring countries from weapons of mass destruction, and the main beneficiary is Israel.

“Other (steps) are needed, such as Geneva 2,” he said, referring to a stalled peace conference that would bring rebels and regime officials to the negotiating table.

Zura, who runs an insurance company, was also sceptical.

“It might be that this agreement brings new hope, but I don’t trust the Americans at all,” she said, as she walked her two dogs in the Al-Jahez gardens in the heart of Damascus.