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Entries in John Pedro Schwartz (2)


Syria 1st-Hand: A Taxi Ride In the Damascus Suburbs (Schwartz)

A Building in Al-Hajar Al-AswadLIf you go to Damascus and ask a taxi driver to take you to the suburb of Harasta, you will not find it. Nor will you find Jobar. You will not find al-Hajar al-Aswad, either. Nor Qaddam. You will find half of Douma, three quarters of Daraya. Zamalka you will not find.

What you will find in place of these villages in the Damascus countryside, which the Syrian army reclaimed from the rebels in August and September, is the rubble of war. Rows of four- and five- and six-story buildings razed to their foundations. Symmetrical heaps of broken masonry, neatly setting off the original real estate lots --- and then whole oceans of stone, with jagged waves. Electricity poles shattered at the trunk like felled trees, their tangle of wires branching in the dirt. Cars flattened as at the junk yard. Buses riddled with bullets. Apartment buildings with their fronts sheared off, so that you get an axial view of the floors, furniture and tenants gone missing.

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Syria 1st-Hand: A Motorcycle Ride to Homs (Schwartz)

It all began on a pleasant motorcycle trip I took last month from Beirut, Lebanon, to Tartous, Syria, that ended up becoming a semi-surreptitious probe of Hama and Homs, the twin flashpoints of the Syrian uprising. As an English professor at the American University of Beirut, armed only with a rare visa obtained over the summer at the Syrian Consulate in Houston, Texas, and a modicum of Arabic, I managed to pass muster at a series of military checkpoints and gain entry into these two besieged cities.

Once inside, I was able to meet and talk with protesters and see first-hand evidence of President Bashar al-Assad's violent crackdown on the demonstrations that have been rocking the country since March. More than 3,000 people are believed to have been killed over the last seven months, most of them peaceful protesters, according to international rights groups and Syrian activists.

This is the story of what I saw.

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