DAMASCUS, Syria – This city is an armed fortress as the distant sounds are heard of government artillery bombarding the outer sections, where armed opposition members are located, during the night and into the morning.
The government maintains firm control over the central portion of the city, but there are other areas which are blocked off from access due to control by the opposition fighters, whose ranks are swelling with foreign fighters from countries which include Chechnya, Russia; Afghanistan; Tunisia; Saudi Arabia; some from Europe, and surprisingly – the United States.
Lining the main streets of the Damascus under government control are sandbag bunkers manned by numerous gunmen at every station. They are armed with Kalashnikovs and are guarding the avenues.
According to Syrian vice prime minister for the opposition with the government, Kadri Jameel, there are up to 40,000 foreign Islamic militant fighters in Syria now.
Jameel represents the opposition from within Syria even though it is part of the government.
He said that he has sought changes in Syria since 2005 to prevent the type of violence Syria is experiencing today.
He said the opposition is prepared to set up the very parties which the regime now seeks to establish. It is one of the reforms that the unarmed opposition has demanded.
He added that it could be done if the foreign fighters who have no role in Syria’s government would leave.
“They have no place in Syria’s future,” Jameel said.
“We want peaceful change, and the regime is now ready,’ he said. “We’re not pacifists but have a clear vision for the balance of forces in the region.”
The deputy prime minister’s comments come as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed to an international conference on Syria.
While the few members of the mainstream media are reporting that there has been no reaction to this announcement from the government, Jameel told WND that they regard the initiative as a positive step.
However, he cautioned against any other provocation, especially from Israel, which members of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad believe is coordinating efforts with the armed Syrian opposition.
Israel last week launched two attacks on Syria, firing missiles from inside Lebanon, violating Lebanese airspace to launch the attacks – an action which was condemned by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as a violation of United Nations Resolution 1701.
The attacks were on a shipment of arms from Syria to Hezbollah and on a military research center.
Syria promised to retaliate, but well-placed sources in the government don’t believe it will launch a military attack against Israel.
While many opposition members express eagerness to work out differences with the al-Assad regime, the presence of the foreign fighters has made it difficult for the government to stop the fighting, especially involving well-armed foreign fighters.
During discussions with family survivors from the Jaramana section of Damascus, a mortar exploded about a block away, underscoring the outreach of the opposition fighters.
One month ago, two car bombs exploded at a busy traffic circle in the middle of Jaramana. It is located along the main road to the Damascus airport. Here, different factions live peaceably.
The first car bomb in the center of Jaramana killed 130 people. As people in the area rushed to those killed and injured, a second car bomb exploded, killing another 100.
Then, as family and friends were burying the dead days later, another car bomb exploded, killing another 13 people.
"Tell me why we are being attacked," the father of two children who were killed in the explosions pleaded.
Another father said that foreign fighters had kidnapped his children, chopped up their bodies and sent the pieces in a box to the children's mother.
"It's organized slaughter" at the hands of the foreign fighters, another father said through an interpreter as he shouted, tears welling up in his eyes, and putting his hands to his head in anguish.
Indeed, the armed opposition, comprised mostly of the foreign fighters, has been systematically attacking the hospitals and medical staff which offer medical help to all factions.
Of the 124 hospitals that service Syria's population of 23 million, some 54 of them have been either destroyed or damaged. The opposition fighters also are car bombing the hospitals or launching attacks on them, including the targeting of ambulances and killing many support staff.
Surgical rooms have been gutted. Equipment, which is mostly Western, that cannot be taken out is destroyed.
The Syrian government's minister of health, Saad al-Naief, told WND that he believes the purpose of foreign fighters attacking especially the hospitals and often killing patients in the process is designed to attack and destroy Syria's infrastructure.
At one Damascus hospital, a moderate Muslim imam who is against any fighting told of how he had been abducted, one of his ears cut off and his body severely cut up, and then shot in the neck and left for dead.
However, he somehow survived and was brought to the hospital, but told WND that he is afraid to leave the hospital.
He said there are "spies" among the opposition who are watching for him to leave so that they can kill him.
"The terrorists will target me until I'm dead."