Damascus prepares for Christmas without mortar fire

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Christmas decorations are going up for the first time in years in a Damascus neighborhood that was a frontline in Syria’s war until government forces wiped out the last rebel enclaves in the capital earlier this year.

“Christmas preparations this year are more than excellent. There are no mortars anymore,” said Hanna al-Saad, a shop owner in the Qasaa district that was often shelled from the adjacent area of Jobar.

Abbasiyeen Square, where mortars regularly fell, and nearby parts of the city are being decked out with lighting and Christmas trees, while musicians with a local scout troop are preparing for a Christmas march not seen for years.

“We are so happy. The children can now come again to the church without worrying for their safety, and their parents feel more reassured,” said Aline Droubi, a musician with the scout troop that practices at a church in Abbasiyeen.

The eastern edge of Damascus bore the brunt of insurgent shelling until government forces recovered control of the Ghouta region in a Russian-backed offensive that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says killed 1,600 civilians.

Over the course of the Syrian war, insurgent shelling killed some 2,000 people in Damascus, according to a Facebook group that recorded the attacks.

Following the recovery of eastern Ghouta in April, government forces moved on to take back the Yarmouk area south of the capital, bringing all Damascus back under state control.

“Last year we didn’t dare to walk in the streets a lot,” said Abir Ismail, a resident of al-Qasaa neighborhood, adjacent to Jobar town that was controlled by an armed faction.

“We had no electricity and there were no lights or decorations,” she added, expressing excitement at the sight of the decorated streets and houses this year.

Reporting by Kinda Makieh; Writing by Dahlia Nehme and Tom Perry; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle