Members of the ‘neighbourhood militias’ who now man the checkpoints in the Old City of Damascus have been receiving training in Russia, I am reliably informed. Training in what, you may ask? How to spy on your neighbours?
No, training in how to use weapons, how to fire guns, Many of the militia members are very young indeed, still teenagers. But if you are unemployed and your university/school education has been interrupted by war, the attractions of a stable job, paid for by the regime are obvious. The overwhelming majority are young men, but a few are women, some of whom – especially those stationed at the Bab Touma and Bab Sharqi checkpoints, are even wearing hijab headscarves, which is surprising.
The ordinary residents of the Old City have noticed the change, and the increase in armed patrols and checkpoints, but far from feeling safer, they are worried that these militias will increase the volatility of the Old City, hitherto a relatively safe bubble away from the fighting. What will happen next is anyone’s guess, but the residents feel highly manipulated by the presence of these militias whom they have had no say in choosing.