Damascus residents retreat to parks to forget the war

Damascus residents retreat to parks to forget the war

DAMASCUS - As night falls on Damascus, families flock to the Arnus garden, with its statue of former leader Hafez al-Assad, in an attempt to relax and forget the war.

"At home, I'm on edge and upset watching the news. I come here to breathe," Umm Sami, a portly smiley woman says from behind her small glasses, her hair tucked under a white veil as bombing echoes from the city's outskirts.

"When I see all these people, I'm not afraid any more," she adds, gesturing towards the plastic chairs and tables set up alongside vendors selling coffee, juice, candyfloss, corn and sweets - all to the sound of popular Arabic music in a fairground atmosphere.

Once a place where people came for a quick stroll before the conflict began with the March 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, this green corner in the central Salhiye district has been transformed into an open-air cafe.

Residents come to relax and experience a bit of human warmth and normalcy, just a few kilometres (miles) from battles between regime forces and rebels.

In the past, they might have retreated to the greenery of Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb that has now become infamous as one of the scenes of an alleged deadly chemical weapons attack on August 21.

But now, Damascus residents looking for some respite go to the city's public gardens. In Tishrin, Al-Jahez, Mazraa and Baramkeh districts, crowds of locals are protected in local parks by armed security men.

Locals say the green presence is comforting.

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