Damascenes brace for dreaded Western 'aggression'

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As Western powers inch closer to launching military action, Syria is tightening security and juggling its military assets, forcing the people of Damascus to ready for the dreaded inevitable.

Faced with the likely prospect of a barrage of air strikes, Rana says she feels "deeply concerned."

She has decided to leave her house in the northern neighborhood of Qudsaya for the relative safety of her parents' home in Mazraa, in the center of the Syrian capital.

"Staying at home would be dangerous. Together with my husband, I'll go to my parents' place for the time being, until things clear up," she explains.

Rana's house is situated near Mount Qassioun, which features a number of military bases and artillery positions used to shell rebel-controlled suburbs of the city.

Similarly Ayssar, his wife and their two children have packed their bags and departed for Beirut in neighboring Lebanon where his parents have rented a house.

Their apartment is located right next to an air force building in Abu Roummane, another likely target of the expected Western air strikes.

Lana, a 30-year-old humanitarian worker, said many of her colleagues have taken leave and "plan to travel to Europe".

The United States and its allies accuse the Syrian army of unleashing chemical weapons last week against two rebel-controlled parts of the capital, and are threatening to launch punitive strikes in response.

In Damascus, a stronghold of the regime, residents and the security forces are mobilizing amid increasingly palpable tension.

The police are out in force, many streets have been shut off to traffic, and public buildings have been fortified with sandbags.

This morning, Ammar says it took him more than three hours to get to work in Damascus from Qtaife, a 50-kilometre (30-mile) journey that normally takes him two hours.

"The roads were packed with people. Soldiers stepped up their controls and inspected all cars. I feel as though I have come a long way," he says.

The army has been preparing for all eventualities should the West launch missiles against Syria, a security official told AFP on Thursday.

"We are working, like all the armies of the world, on worst-case scenarios. We are taking measures to protect the country from a strike and preparing the conditions for an adequate response," said the official.

In hospitals, the security forces have become increasingly visible.

At a large public hospital on the outskirts of the capital, workers noticed the presence of eight security agents in battle fatigues on guard outside the building.

With the Western action looming, the army has begun to reposition its assets over the past 48 hours in Damascus, as well as the central cities of Hama and Homs.

Dozens of military commanders and their brigades have been "evacuated" to other locations, says the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Assad vowed on Thursday to defend his country from attack as the United States and Britain laid out their case for punitive strikes over the suspected poisonous gas attacks.

"Syria will defend itself in the face of any aggression, and threats will only increase its commitment to its principles and its independence," the embattled leader was quoted as saying.

Assad's forces have been fighting an insurgency that flared in response to a brutal regime crackdown on peaceful democracy protests that erupted in March 2011.

More than 100,000 people have been killed in the violence and almost two million others have been forced to flee the country.

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