22 June 2010
A cacophony of gun fire and cries for help, screaming voices of Americans and Brits, pleading “Save us, save us”. I opened my eyes and saw the rotating fan, top-lit by a dim bulb, the smell was Arabic, a balcony shimmered in the distance, sweating and shaking I sat up, it was like the opening scene in ‘Apocalypse Now’. But all was calm, moments later I realised I must have fallen asleep with the telly on. A news item about western hostages being killed in Iraq had woken me, a graphic re-construction had thrust me back to Iraq for a nightmarish moment, but here I am again waking in peaceful Syria.
Peaceful? well so it seems most of the time, as I push my way though the thousands of tourists in the old city of Damascus. Tourism is big business, despite the world-wide recession tourism is up 12% in Syria making it a billion dollar industry. The last thing Syria needs now is a war, but the more international news I read from the region the more it looks like it, the papers predict a war between Israel and Lebanon where this time Syria will get involved. In the past Syria has sat on the sidelines fuelling and funding (along with Iran) Hezbollah – the freedom fighters of south Lebanon. As I wander through the old city posters of Hezbollah leader are clear to be seen everywhere, their support it seems comes from the people as well as the government.
But how likely is it to happen? Bashar al-Assad the Syrian president said in a recent interview here that if there is a 1% possibility of averting a war he will find it. But other reports say that bigger and more sophisticated weapons have already been sent to Lebanon from Syria in preparation for any fighting.
The blockade of Gaza, the Israeli attack on the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ aid ship and the killing of nine volunteers has raised tensions in the region and now new fears of a pre-emptive Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear plants next year puts war high on the news agenda. Not that it seems to bother the tourists here in bustling Damascus, in the hot sweaty souks where old men play backgammon whilst sipping on tiny cups of Arabic coffee, a bigger news story has won the hearts and minds of locals and tourists alike… the World Cup in South Africa!