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More Young Syrians Flee Home Lives To Face The Unknown


From Qusair, we head south now, loosely following Syria's border with Lebanon to Damascus. Over the past few months, the security situation in Syria's capital has been deteriorating. For many in Damascus, the city is no longer a livable place and every day brings new risks.

As Rasha Elass reports, many young professionals are now joining a civilian exodus.

RASHA ELASS, BYLINE: These days, this is what life in Damascus sounds like.


ELASS: Government forces fire rockets from the hills overlooking Damascus. The shells crash into the outskirts of the city, in rebel-held areas.

But the two-year-old uprising-turned-civil war is inching ever closer to the heart of the capital. Car bombs and stray mortars disrupt everyday life. Last month, a bomb went off in a crowded square, killing over a dozen people and injuring many more. Survivors were left to clear up the debris and sweep shattered glass from shop fronts and private homes.

One man pointed to the torched trees as a bulldozer moved into the blast site.

Then there are the funeral processions, too numerous these days and too often punctured by the sound of shelling.

Many Damascenes feel the worst is yet to come, a dread perpetuated by constant declarations by the rebels that the final battle for the capital is imminent. As the fighting intensifies, government forces have deployed tanks and artillery in densely populated middle-class areas like Rukn al-Din. The noise of the outgoing shells only heightens the fears of those who live there.

Yasser and his wife Mariam live in a nearby district. Like many young, educated, middle-class professionals here, they always thought they'd build their lives and their city, and one day retire in the only home they'd ever known. No longer.

Yasser is a health coach and nutritionist. Last week, after a session with his one remaining client, he planned the couple's escape. Like so many Damascenes, Yasser and Mariam left with nothing but a suitcase and a little bit of savings, just enough to live on for a couple of months.

YASSER: (Through Translator) Actually, I feel very confused. I don't know what God has in store for us. We're going to the unknown, but there's no other choice. No other choice.

ELASS: The couple had simply endured too many close calls.

YASSER: (Through Translator) I was walking home one day when a mortar shell fell just meters away from me. Everything was like a movie, with people running and scattering in every direction, screaming.

ELASS: Even funerals are no longer safe as Yasser experienced first-hand when he went to the funeral of a friend.

YASSER: (Through Translator) State Security officers told us we'd better skip the prayer at the mosque and go straight to the cemetery, so we don't look like we're congregating to cause trouble. At the cemetery, the agents hovered all around us, and we had to bury my friend in a hurry. We were very upset. But you can't argue with those armed men.

ELASS: Yasser and Mariam had hoped they could fly out of Damascus. But the international airport is unsafe, with periodic bombardments and ongoing clashes between rebels and regime forces on the airport road. So Yasser and Mariam hired a car to take them across the border into Lebanon.

There were four or five government checkpoints on the highway to the frontier. And at the border, the lines were long. Once on the Lebanese side, a man starts cursing the Syrian regime, blaming it for all the humiliation and suffering that Syrians now endure. Another man encourages him.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

ELASS: As Yasser and Mariam cleared the border, Mariam immediately called her mother in Damascus to let her know that they were safe and on the way to Beirut airport.

MARIAM: (Foreign language spoken)

ELASS: At the airport, a man notices the Syrian license plate on their car. He approaches to ask if the road from Damascus was safe, explaining that his relatives are also trying to get out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken)

ELASS: For NPR News, I'm Rasha Elass in Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rasha Elass