'God damn you, Trump': Syrians in Damascus react to U.S.-led airstrikes

The news of the U.S. and allies airstrikes on Syria last Saturday made headlines all over the world, but for those who live in Damascus it was no more than bizarre theatrics and an un-accomplished mission.

'I was so scared, and I prayed to God to protect all of us,' says university student

A destroyed bus is seen in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, on Saturday. (Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

Damascene — a name given to the people of Damascus — had little presence in the Syrian uprising against president Bashar al-Assad compared to those from other Syrian cities.

For one reason or another, Assad decided to hold on to Damascus fiercely, so those who wanted to rise up against him either had to leave the city for good, or stay in prisons for undetermined periods of time. 

News of the airstrikes by the U.S. and allies on Syria early Saturday made headlines all over the world, but for those who live in Damascus it was nothing more than bizarre theatrics and an un-accomplished mission.

'I thought it's the final day of the world'

The strikes came at 4 a.m. in Damascus, the city that sleeps so little these days. Some people were partying and others were sleeping in the safety of their beds when a loud siren started to wail. People mumbled to one another, "Donald Trump has launched his airstrikes."

"I was asleep when I heard the airstrikes. It was so loud that I thought it's the final day of the world," said Noor T., not her real name, a university student who had a project to deliver on Saturday.

"My entire family woke up, too. Some dared to look through the windows and others talked about going down to the basement. I live in Mashrou Dummar (7 km from the centre of Damascus). I opened my Facebook to check on what the heck was going on. And then I received messages from friends who live outside Syria who wanted to check up on me. I was so scared, and I prayed to God to protect all of us."

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The noise of the aircraft varied in intensity across the city. Bilal A., also not his real name, said he was up when he heard the siren.

"I thought to myself, 'we are doomed,'" he said. "I live in Abu Romanah (1½ km away from central Damascus) in a neighbourhood that is close to the air force intelligence building. I thought the building was going to be on the target list, but it wasn't."

Since Bilal had heard that attacks were coming, he had planned to sleep over at his relatives' house. "I was scared because the airstrikes were carried by big countries, and I thought, 'this going to be huge.'" But uncertainty about timing made him reluctant to leave home.

'God damn you, Trump'

Mazen Haffar, a cameraman, had made plans with his team to cover the attacks whenever they happened. He lives in Alzahira, about 2 km away from central Damascus.

"Ten minutes after the launch of the attacks I was ready to hit the road with my camera. I made sure that my family was safe and I drove up to Al-Mazzeh area where I was supposed to turn on a live feed," he said. "I avoided passing by Almazzeh airport and drove on a high speed next to some other sensitive locations. On the way I was praying to God to protect us and our beloved city.

"My main focus was to go live as soon as possible and show what was happening to the world."

Mazen Haffar is a cameraman who had agreed with his team on a plan to cover the attacks if and when they happened. (Submitted)

At 5:05 a.m. Mazen started broadcasting from a rooftop of a residential building. "Of course I was scared, but I had a mission to accomplish, and I could capture two airstrikes and Syrian anti-missiles live," he said.

George Khoury, an information technology worker who lives in Al-Kasaa area (about 2 km from central Damascus), wasn't asleep yet when he heard the airstrikes. "I rushed to the rooftop along with my kids and wife to watch it, I saw our Syrian anti-missiles illuminating our sky. On the rooftop we repeated 'God damn you, Trump.'"

'It was such a bizarre show'

At 5.15 a.m., silence fell over the city. The strikes appeared to have ceased, but people waited, unsure it was the end.

"During this 45 minutes people were terrified, they did not know what to expect, some went live on FB, or read news, or went down to shelters, or did not even wake up," said Bilal. "Others were roaming streets by their cars and playing national anthems. But when people realized that the strikes were over they laughed out loud; it was such a bizarre show. The mortar shells that we have witnessed over the past seven years were way more serious."

But Bilal couldn't go to sleep afterwards. "I thought the forces were just warming up."

George Khoury works in IT and lives in Al-Kasaa area, about 1.9 kilometres from central Damascus. (Submitted)

Khoury, on the other hand, "went to bed happily." He said that there were times when mortar shells had made him more scared. "The airstrikes failed to accomplish any goal. Our anti-missiles that is 30 years old could stop 70 of their 'smart' missiles; I can't be more proud of our military," he said.

Mazen, meanwhile, kept his camera feed live until he was totally sure the airstrikes were through. "When it was over, I felt at ease. People were relieved; they thanked God that the airstrikes passed … they were also very proud of our National Syrian military who stopped more than 70 airstrikes."

U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence said the strikes "crippled the chemical weapons capability of Syria." 

'The morning of resilience'

At 11 a.m., the president's office posted a video that appeared to show Assad arriving for work on Saturday just hours after the attack. The video ran with the caption "The morning of resilience." Meanwhile, hundreds of Syrians gathered at landmark squares in the Syrian capital, honking car horns, flashing victory signs and waving Syrian flags.

George Khoury woke up around 7 a.m., read the news and slowly hit the road to work. "Life looked totally normal," he said. "If anything is new it's that people were cursing the United States and its allies out loud."

Bothered by the night's events, Bilal decided to take a day off. But yet "nothing major has changed in the city," he said. "Only a higher level of public sarcasm. People were celebrating victory in the streets and making fun of the United States."

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'Mission accomplished'

While Donald Trump was tweeting "Mission accomplished," people all over the Syrian regime areas were celebrating what they perceived as their country's victory in protecting their people.

The U.S. has said the attacks were carried out to avoid civilian casualties.

"The United States should have waited for the chemical weapon experts' report," said Khoury. "The strikes made a reverse effect; it boosted people's belief in their army and political leaders."