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DAMASCUS, October 20 (Itar-Tass) - Damascus’ southern district al Qadam has turned into the arena of fierce fighting between the Syrian army and Islamic militants, who are trying to break into the centre of Damascus. This district has been the origin of threat, as the distance from the centre to the line of fire is not more than five kilometres. It is from here that terrorists open fire at peaceful neighbourhoods, bringing death and destruction.
The oldest district, where, according to legends, Prophet Muhammad set foot as he stopped in the town of Midan. Shaken by the view of old Damascus, the Prophet said: "A person is allowed to enter only once the heavenly paradise, and I want to get to heaven." He refused to enter Damascus, and the stone where Prophet Muhammad stood, keeps his footprint. In the XII century, a mosque was built there - al Qadam /footprint/ and a small mausoleum in front of the mosque’s entrance, where the footprint is kept with care. Two centuries later /in 1348 /, when the plague was raging in Damascus, the town's population - Christians, Muslims and Jews, came to al Qadam to ask God for salvation. And the miracle happened, The "Black Death" left, legends read. The "Black Death" stepped away from al Qadam today, too, though this time under pressure from the Syrian army. The soldiers were able to fight off the mosque from the militants, who left, line in other Christian and Muslim holy places, destruction and piles of garbage as they retreated.
The Syrian best army divisions have to fight back continuously attacks from terrorists in al Qadam. The Army’s Commander in the area, Colonel Ali not only talked about the situation, but also personally took Itar-Tass correspondent along the fire line and introduced me to his soldiers. This area is divided by the combatant zone - the western part is controlled by the Syrian army, and the eastern - by al Nusra militants, including several most active groups - Farouk al Sabah and Ahfad al-Rasul. Eastern al Qadam is controlled by up to 5,000 militants, including many mercenaries from Turkey, Palestine, and Tunisia. In addition, Syrian soldiers killed there a few days earlier several terrorists from Bangladesh.
Al Qadam borders East Huta, which is also controlled by militants and terrorists, and from there terrorists are receiving constantly fresh force and weapons. As the military were freeing street by street, they discovered there a lot of Israeli-made missiles, American M-16 rifles, anti-tank grenade launcher made in Jordan, and so forth. Weapons and money are coming here from Saudi Arabia via Jordan to Daraa, from where they militants transport them through secret tunnels to al Qadam. These tunnels have been made throughout the district. The other day, militants tried to dig a similar tunnel to the district’s western part hoping for a surprise effect, but were successfully discovered. The army chose not to blow up the tunnel, and the soldiers began to dig towards the militants, set up an ambush and killed immediately under the ground up to 20 terrorists. After that, the army forces came out of the tunnel to the enemy’s territory and destroyed some 300 fighters, Colonel Ali said. Itar-Tass correspondent was able to see the entrance to the tunnel, which came out almost by the headquarters of the group command. Now, the tunnel is mined completely.
Having failed to achieve their goal, the militants organised a new provocation as on October 15, during the celebration of Eid al Adha /Feast of Sacrifice/ they attempted seizing the strategic route Damascus - Daraa, from where they planned the move towards the city’s centre. Hypothetically, they could manage within ten minutes. Up to 1,500 terrorists took part in the operation, and the army had to call for air support. Thus, Syrian fighter-bombers destroyed this squad, firing missile at squares. I asked the commander what could happen if the bandits break through to the centre. Ali said they would be destroyed within hours, as the city is surrounded by three defence lines, however it would be impossible to avoid many victims and ruins.
Such a resounding failure did not quiet the terrorists, they continue provoking new clashes. At the time Itar-Tass correspondent was at the forefront of the Syrian troops, just ten meters from the destroyed garages a group of about 50 gunmen began to gather there. The colonel ordered immediately to kill them, and the battle began. The militants were shouting out insults at the soldiers, and did not forget to rub religious slogans.
Al Qadam is a dead city now. The equipment from the factory making refrigerators was exported and sold to Jordan, the furniture factory burned down, and the glass factory was ruined and broken completely. A similar fate was prepared to the Ottoman Empire railway station and the Railway Museum. The latter could have been described as a miracle of engineering of late XIX century. But the museum is gone, leaving only skeletons of burned-down cars and locomotives and crumpled copper plates, stating the locomotive was made ··in Switzerland in 1897. The railway station is lost, too. Now, the building of the former station hosts the military headquarters and the railroad tracks are littered with the debris of modern trains and automobiles. In addition, terrorist snipers are firing through the station. In Al Qadam there is not a single safe place nowadays, threat comes from every street, from every house, and soldiers have to move only running or even crawling.
Soldiers Badr and Bashar are on active duty for more than a year now. They managed to destroy a mined car, which the militants were trying to pull to the army positions. These two men have not been home for over a year, for more than a year they remain were under the enemy fire. "Thank you for your service, you are real soldiers, heroes," Colonel Ali says as he hugs each soldier. "Come on. Let's rather make a picture," Badr told later to Itar-Tass correspondent. "The thing is - if we are not here, the terrorists will come to our house. But they wouldn’t; we shall not let them," Bashar said.