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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Syria braces for Western 'limited strikes'

Syria braces for Western 'limited strikes'

People walk past shop windows in the Syrian capital Damascus (AFP PHhoto / Louai Beshara) People walk past shop windows in the Syrian capital Damascus (AFP PHhoto / Louai Beshara)

In anticipation of the Western-led military strike on Syria, government forces have begun evacuating from army and security command headquarters in Damascus, opposition sources claim.
Syrian government forces have retreated from the airport zone in Damascus amid reports that the families of Syrian military elite are evacuating to Lebanon. 
A Free Syrian Army source told Reuters that the General Staff Command Building, the air force command as well as the security compounds in the Western Kfar Souseh districts of the capital have been partially evacuated. The authorities have not yet replied to the reports.

According to accounts and residence on the ground, almost no one reported for work at the General Staff compound on Wednesday, which employed a reduced number of people following the rebel forces attack in September 2012.

Locals say the area has beem cordoned off for the last two days and trucks at the scene are being used to remove documents and light weapons.

The Free Syrian Army claims that the General Staff Command has been evacuated to the foothills of the mountains north of Damascus.

“Various commands are being moved to schools and underground bunkers. But I am not sure it is going to do much good for the regime,” Brigadier General Mustafa al-Sheikh told Reuters.

A commander in the Ansar al-Islam rebel brigade in Damascus, Abu Ayham also claimed that the army’s general staff and Air force Intelligence were relocated. 
AFP Photo / SANA / HO
AFP Photo / SANA / HO

“To all intents and purposes, the army’s command and control compounds have been evacuated. Before the threat (of a Western strike) they have been taking precautions by working more from lower floors. In the last 48 hours they have been vacated,” he told Reuters.

Activists also claimed that the housing compounds for the Republican Guards and Fourth Division near the suburbs of Somariya and Mouadamiya had been evacuated.

Reports also emerge that Mount Qasioun which overlooks Damascus and is home to Republican Guards units also appears to have been evacuated.

“There have been lots of army trucks descending from Qasioun. It seems they have evacuated the 105 Republican Guards battalion headquarters,”
 the resident told Reuters.

Damascus, the capital of more than 1.7 million people is preparing for the worst as the US and its allies build up forces in the Mediterranean and debate the timing of a potential strike in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons last week.

There are fears of high casualty rates in the capital if the Western forces launch an attack.
AFP Photo / SANA / HO
AFP Photo / SANA / HO

"We live in the capital. Every turn, every street, every neighbourhood has some government target. Where do we hide?" a resident tells the press.

Meanwhile Damascenes have started panic buying essential goods.  Bread, dried and canned foods, as well as batteries and water are in high demand.

"People have been in the habit of stocking extra food since the conflict began, but now people are buying huge amounts of food and water," one resident said as bank machines are being emptied by people desperate to take out cash.

Assad supporters are trying to boost morale, with activists driving around neighborhoods with flags and playing loud patriotic songs. 
Fears of a possible military strike are also encouraging some Syrians to flee.  Around 6,000 Syrians escaped to Lebanon in a 24-hour period, AP has learned from an anonymous source at the border crossing. The normal daily influx since the crisis began is between 500 to 1,000 refugees. 

It is estimated that almost 2 million Syrians have been displaced out of Syria since March 2011.