DAMASCUS: Guided more by what they can hear than see, Syrian troops and rebels are battling in the bowels of Damascus, digging tunnels in a campaign to control the eastern entrance to the capital.
This is the suburb of Jobar, next to Abassid Square, a stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The army knows that if it is lost to the rebels, the capital’s entire defences are in danger.
Inside an empty building, a hole in the floor leads to an observation room seven metres (23 feet) down, where army computers are linked to cameras rigged up inside a network of army tunnels.
But Mazen, a captain, explains that the cameras are of only limited use in tracking the enemy’s movements.
“We depend above all on our ears. When we’ve located the source of the noise, we dig in that direction.”
“Then it’s a surprise: either the rebels are there and we fight, or we cut off the tunnel, or we use it ourselves.”
There are two wars going on here, one above ground, the other below.
In the open air, snipers from both sides fire from buildings sometimes just metres apart, the thunder of shells and regime air strikes occasionally rocking the area.
“There are two cities. There’s the virtual one above, and the real one below,” says a soldier monitoring computer screens.