suspicion of the young Syrian soldier manning a checkpoint north-east
of central Damascus was no surprise. But his words came as a shock.
“Free army!” he declared, at this road junction in the Damascus
suburb of Irbin, just half an hour’s drive from the seat of power of
President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. “We are independent. We are with the
people,” he continued, as a half-dozen of his comrades quickly
gathered, one with a rocket propelled grenade launcher over his
unexpected meeting with the militarised opposition who style themselves
the Free Syrian Army was just the first of a series of striking
insights offered by the capital’s restive suburbs into the country’s
social faultlines and its dangerous state of flux. Days after the Assad
regime vowed to press on with a “security solution” to the 10-month uprising
the conflict’s lethal intensity is easily found in the down at heel
communities that ring Damascus. So too is the growing desperation of
many Syrians to find a peaceful end to bloodshed already estimated to
have claimed more than 5,000 lives.