Correction: Syria-Destroyed Town story


In a story April 16 about the aftermath of Western airstrikes in the Syrian town of Douma, The Associated Press referred erroneously to the Syrian government as Abbas' government instead of Assad's. It was a reference to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Destruction, traumatized residents in Syrian town of Douma

The streets of the town of Douma near the capital, Damascus, had few people with the majority of its residents now displaced to the country's north

By BASSEM MROUE

Associated Press

Two days after Syrian troops declared this town near the capital, Damascus, liberated from rebel fighters and 10 days since a suspected chemical attack, a tour on Monday revealed widespread destruction and traumatized residents who recalled months spent cowering in crowded underground shelters infested with lice, with barely any food or water.

Except for the Russian and Syrian troops patrolling the streets, few people could be seen in Douma, the majority of its residents now displaced to rebel-held areas to the north.

The main hospital, courthouse and municipal buildings were largely reduced to rubble, while the nearby Grand Mosque, famed for its towering arches, white dome and majestic palm trees was riddled with bullet and shell holes — testimony to the intense government assault the town was subjected to since being seized by the rebels six years ago.

Douma was one of the first areas to rise up against President Bashar Assad's government and until a few weeks ago it was a major threat to his seat of power in Damascus, as rebels pelted it with shells, disrupting normal life. On Saturday, Syrian government forces entered Douma for the first time since 2012, marking the biggest victory for Assad's forces since the conflict began in 2011.

On Monday, the few remaining residents were able to move around safely for the first time in months following the crushing government offensive and a yearslong siege, tightened even further last year, that had starved the town, once the bread basket of the capital, of food, medical supplies and other essentials.

On an Associated Press tour of the town, organized by the Assad government, hundreds of men, women and children could be seen standing in long lines waiting their turn to get pasta, vegetables and loaves of bread piled on government trucks and handed out for free.

"This is the first time I will eat wheat bread in years," said Naim Saqour, an 18-year-old, after receiving a pack of nine Arab loaves from the government employees. Saqour said that he and his family had survived for months on olives and small amounts of barley bread.

"Our happiness is double now. We are eating wheat bread and we sleep without fear," said tailor Alaa Khobiyeh. "Most importantly, we sleep above ground not underground."

Many residents blamed the greed of some local businessmen and the main rebel group in Douma, the Saudi-backed Army of Islam, for much of their misery, by raising food prices to make more money and hiding the scant food supplies from people in need. After the Army of Islam left town, they said, they discovered the militants had stored large amounts of rice, flour, wheat, canned goods and other food — enough, they said to feed residents for months.

Residents also spoke of several local families who used to buy large amounts of food and hoard it to sell later at a far higher price, making most food products out of reach for most people.

Wafaa al-Seikh, 60, spoke wistfully of a time, years ago, when she used to cook a different dish for her family of six children and have a shower every day. For the past year, she said she could not afford to pay for staples like sugar, which shot up to 18,000 Syrian pounds ($40) a kilo (2.2 pounds), from its normal price of 500 Syrian pounds (about $1.10).

"A month could pass without having a shower," said the woman, who had rice for the first time in years on Sunday. She described the past two months during the army's offensive to capture Douma as terrifying, with time passing slowly in shelters with little food and lice spreading among residents.

Douma was the scene of a suspected chemical weapons attack on April 7 that killed more than 40 people and hastened the rebels' surrender to government forces. During a government-organized trip on Monday, survivors spoke to the AP of the horror they witnessed from a chlorine-like substance that killed their neighbors, but they blamed the rebels for the attack, without providing any evidence.

On Monday, the Assad government was working on winning the hearts and minds of Douma residents, handing out the free food and pledging to restore services in a timely fashion.

At a meeting on Monday attended by Syrian Finance Minister Maamoun Hamdan, several local bankers and a number of Douma dignitaries, Hamdan promised that services would start improving in coming weeks and mobile bakeries would be deployed in neighborhoods to sell bread, the country's main staple, at cost.

Hamdan said that initial funding of 5 billion Syrian pounds ($10.8 million) had been set aside "for different domains, and if it is not enough then we are ready to fund more."

Maj. Gen. Issam Shehadeh Al-Hallaj, the chief police commander in the region, said that security forces were manning 15 checkpoints set up outside town to secure public properties and maintain order. He said 60,000 residents remained in the town after tens of thousands of rebels and their families left for rebel-held areas in northern Syria over the past two weeks. "We have deployed patrolling forces in all the squares to save the citizens and to spread security," he said.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Nation World

Want to catch up on Marvel films before ‘Avengers: Infinity War’? It'll take more than 38 hours
Want to catch up on Marvel films before ‘Avengers: Infinity War’? It'll take more than 38 hours

Marvel’s highly-anticipated “Avengers: Infinity War” film officially hits theaters Thursday night. Are you prepared? >> Read more trending news  The Marvel Studios film blazoned with superheroes, villains and warriors follows 10 years of such blockbusters. It’s the 19th movie and third “Avengers” film...
Musician Charles Neville of The Neville Brothers dead at 79
Musician Charles Neville of The Neville Brothers dead at 79

Musician Charles Neville, the brother of Aaron Neville and a member of the R&B funk group The Neville Brothers, has died. He was 79 years old. Aaron Neville confirmed the news to WWL Thursday. The 79-year-old was sick for some time, the station reported. He died at his Massachusetts home. >> Read more trending news  The New Orleans...
Parents of Otto Warmbier file wrongful death lawsuit against N. Korea
Parents of Otto Warmbier file wrongful death lawsuit against N. Korea

The parents of Otto Warmbier are suing North Korea in a 22-page complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. Warmbier was a college student from Wyoming, Ohio, who was jailed in North Korea and died shortly after he was returned to the United States in a coma.  Fred and Cindy Warmbier, in the lawsuit, accuse Kim Jong Un's...
Video shows 2014 police shooting that killed ‘Cops’ crew member
Video shows 2014 police shooting that killed ‘Cops’ crew member

The judge in a wrongful death lawsuit against Omaha police officers who fatally shot two men in 2014 -- including a member of a “Cops” camera crew shadowing them -- has released footage that shows what happened inside a Wendy’s restaurant being robbed that night.  Officers fired more than 30 rounds in the fast food restaurant...
What a catch! Florida fisherman reels in giant 121-pound catfish
What a catch! Florida fisherman reels in giant 121-pound catfish

Florida fisherman Joel Singletary reeled in the granddaddy of all catfish. >> Read more trending news  Singletary caught the 121-pounder April 11 on the Choctawhatchee River, which flows into the sunshine state from Alabama.  The white-bellied fish, which weighs more than 1.7 times the current record of 69.5 pounds for a catfish caught...
More Stories