The city now feels pregnant with rage, and ready to explode.
Anti-regime graffiti are scribbled on the walls in almost every neighborhood. At night, the sound of shelling in nearby suburbs that have fallen under rebel control echoes through the streets, disturbing the sleep of rich and poor alike. Flying — or tayara — protests, in which small groups stage sudden and swift demonstrations, are increasing even in some of the more upmarket neighborhoods of the city. And recent strikes by merchants of the renowned Damascus souks have eroded perceptions that they still support the government.
On Thursday, the violence came even closer, with government forces firing shells into fields adjoining the long-restive neighborhood of Kafr Souseh on the southeastern edge of the city, sending plumes of smoke rising into the sky and sounds of explosions reverberating through the streets.
One reason for the shifting mood is the influx of people who have flooded into Damascus in recent months, seeking refuge from the fighting elsewhere in the country. The United Nations estimates the overall number of displaced people in Syria at 500,000, and although no one knows for sure how many of those have made their way to the capital, the city’s population has tangibly swelled, with families crowding into hotel rooms, renting cheap apartments and descending on the homes of relatives.
They have brought with them stories of pain and injustice, infecting Damascenes with some of the anger that has sustained the uprising elsewhere for about 16 months.
“The presence of the refugees made us live the tragedy, not only hear about it or read about it as if in a book,” said Samer, 30, a Damascus-based activist who took in a family of 10 from the Bayadeh area of Homs in March. One of them, a woman, wept as she showed him photographs of her son stored on her cellphone, he recalled. The son had been torn apart by shellfire in Homs.
“I was speechless and felt that it was me who wanted help at that moment,” said Samer, who, like others interviewed for this article, requested that he be identified only by his first name because he fears for his safety.
Most of those seeking sanctuary are women and children whose husbands and fathers have been killed or have remained behind to fight or to protect their property.
But activists have come, too, along with their enthusiasm for staging the kind of anti-government demonstrations that have so far taken place only on a limited scale in the capital.