Syria braces for Western 'limited strikes'
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.
“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.
"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.