Inside the Damascus the media refuses to show you, the Damascus that has been saved by Putin
- In rare glimpse of ‘normality’ in Syrian capital, people go about their lives as rest of the country besieged by bombs
- Surreal photos show women shopping for handbags at the bustling Souk al-Hamidiyah night market in Damascus
- Elsewhere, children learn to swim and practise taekwondo while worshippers enjoy the tranquillity of a mosque
- There remains considerable need for tight security – but posters around city show support for President al-Assad
It could be a scene from any capital in the world: a bustling night market where fashionably-dressed women while away the hours shopping for handbags. Meanwhile, across the city, smiling children practise taekwando and swim in an Olympic-sized pool, seemingly without a care in the world.
But this isn’t just any town. It’s Damascus, the capital of Syria, which for four years has been torn apart by a brutal civil war and the evils of ISIS.
Exclusive, rare footage obtained by MailOnline gives a glimpse of the ‘normal lives’ that people enjoy in Assad’s city – even as multiple blasts killed 20 people in a Shia suburb on Sunday.
Since Russia unleashed the full force of its fearsome airpower on Syria, Assad has been strengthened and Islamist and rebel forces have lost territory.
Retaliation came over the weekend, when four explosions rocked a Damascus suburb near Sayeda Zeinab, one of Shia Islam’s most sacred shrines. In the al-Zahraa district of Homs, a stronghold of Assad’s Alawite sect, ISIS claimed responsibility for two blasts which killed 56 and injured 100.
Nevertheless, in many parts of the capital the war now takes place at arm’s length. Night time mortar fire, previously a deadly feature of life in Damascus, has largely subsided, and only a light security presence can be seen in public places.
Enthusiasm for Assad is more noticeable than usual in the city, where it is difficult to walk a few hundred yards without seeing a portrait in tribute to the Syrian leader.
Footage taken last month inside the Souk al-Hamidiyah market shows evidence of support from Tehran and Russia, in the form of well-stocked shops and market stalls.
Women in headscarves can be seen walking alongside those in skirts and jeans, while moustached members of the Druze sect mix with Sunni Muslim clerics – a far cry from the brutal sectarianism of jihadi rebels.
In the Syrian Olympic Committee complex, hundreds of boys and girls are seen taking part in an inter-school competition. Among the sports are swimming, badminton, table tennis and taekwando, and there is little sign of the deprivations of conflict.
Some locals were wary of speaking openly, but those who agreed to speak were enthusiastic in their expressions of support. ‘Look around us. This is what our President provides us with,’ said a father watching his daughter participate in regional swimming heats.
‘Syria was stable for 40 years with the best literacy rates and sporting achievements in the Arab world. What would ISIS or Al Qaeda give us instead? Just death and destruction.’
This view was shared by many of the older children taking part in the competitions, some of whom were already considering military careers. ‘If called upon one day, we will fight for Syria against the terrorists that are destroying it,’ one boy scout said.
Domestic losses, as well as harrowing television footage of casualties
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