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Young people in the Syrian capital, Damascus, paint concrete roadblocks with the colors of the Syrian flag. With the threat of a U.S. strike growing, there are public displays of support for the Syrian state. (For NPR)

Damascus Residents Stock Up As Attack Appears Imminent

Aug 28, 2013

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Vehicles carrying Syria's national flag and playing songs in support of President Bashar Assad drive through the streets of Damascus on Wednesday. Syrians wait in line to buy bread at a market in Damascus on Wednesday. Residents are stocking up on supplies in anticipation of a possible U.S. strike.

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The author is a Syrian citizen in Damascus who is not being further identified for safety reasons.

The likelihood of a U.S. strike against Syria seems to be setting in among the people of Damascus.

Just a couple of days ago, many residents seemed fairly blase. Now people are beginning to react with a mixture of patriotism, fear and dark humor. People are also starting to stock up on some nonperishable items.

Satirists are already circulating on social media a picture of President Obama against a backdrop of the Syrian flag and a slogan at the bottom that says: "We love you." The image is a play on the "We love you" theme used by loyalists of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

But in Damascus, many seemed more consumed with a mild panic than with lightheartedness.

At a supermarket Wednesday, shoppers were buying up bread, batteries and bottled water.

Asked why she would not stock up on meats and dairy products, one homemaker said she worried that electricity cuts would spoil all the perishable food in her refrigerator.

"I've had experience with it over these months. Every time we fill up our freezer with food, electric cuts spoils everything, and we lose all that good food. It's a big shame," she said.

Lines At ATMs

In the streets, people queued up at ATMs to withdraw cash. Before banks closed their doors Wednesday, branches were unusually busy with customers making withdrawals.

At one dermatology clinic, the waiting room was unusually empty. A nurse concluded that people must have "more important things to think about today."

"But the real fear comes later," she said, referring to the widespread expectation that the U.S. will unleash missile strikes in the coming days.

Her concerns echoed those of many Damascenes, who constantly point out that they live in the capital, surrounded by government buildings that could be considered military targets.

"For example, I live next to an intelligence branch. Does this mean they're going to bomb my neighborhood?" she said.

Another woman, Sawsan, who lives across the street from the military headquarters in affluent west Damascus, said she had a contingency plan for her family.

"I'm right next to where it might all happen. So, if bombs start falling on us, I'm grabbing my husband and daughter and getting in our car and off we go to my parents," she said. Her parents live five minutes away by car, up on Qasion Mountain, not far from a spot where Israeli jets bombed in early May.

Rumors have been circulating that government loyalist have been leaving "in droves" from the many garrison towns on the outskirts of Damascus. Some travelers swear they have seen "many military families" leave Syria through its land border to Lebanon.

But such talk of flight seemed of little concern to the many government loyalists who remain in the city. Dozens of them were seen painting concrete roadblocks with the colors of the Syrian flag.

Also seen around town were two famous Hummers painted with the colors of the Syrian flag. For months they have driven through the city streets at various hours of the day and night, playing patriotic music through loudspeakers mounted on their rooftops.

On Wednesday, these Hummers sounded particularly fierce. But owing to the unusually loud volume, the speakers spit out a distorted sound. A deep male voice also emerged from one Hummer, offering incomprehensible chants about Syria and Assad.

Armed men at government checkpoints within the city seemed relaxed and joked with each other, though they were also quick to anger, sometimes interrogating citizens about destination details and the purpose of visits.

Some Damascus residents, meanwhile, remained defiant. One taxi driver, who spoke with a distinct Alawite accent associated with government loyalists, said: "If they want to strike Syria, let them come. We're not afraid."

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