Ritorno alla normalità in alcune zone della Siria?

(di Anne Barnard, The New York Times).
The change of atmosphere here in the Syrian capital is unmistakable. The boom of shelling no longer dominates the days and nights. Tensions over security are draining from the city like air from a balloon. Checkpoints remain ubiquitous but sentries are relaxed, even jocular, teasing strangers, “Any bombs?”

As government forces seize the last insurgent strongholds along the Lebanese border, securing the strategic corridor from Damascus to the coast, President Bashar al-Assad’s home region, the message from the government is clear: It is winning, and it can afford to be magnanimous. It is offering what it calls reconciliation to repentant opponents, and some are accepting.

But the relative tranquillity may be deceptive. Beneath a calm imposed by military force, siege and starvation, the stage appears set for an unstable period of prolonged conflict that could explode again months or years on. Resentment and distrust smolder on all sides. The country remains divided between government areas and the insurgent-held north. In the capital, the ferment seems clamped down, rather than soothed.

Though the government is reasserting control in the crucial center of the country and striking cease-fires in long-blockaded Damascus suburbs, it has resolved none of the deep political grievances that continue to tear at the national fabric. Its opponents, armed and unarmed, are pulling back and accepting defeat in some areas — for now. Yet many say they have not given up, but are merely reassessing their plans and goals with an eye to the future.

Dozens of interviews, in government-controlled areas in Damascus, the central city of Homs and the remote town of Palmyra, reveal that many Syrians — government supporters and opponents alike — doubt official assurances that life is returning to normal. Many among the nine million forced from their homes remain unsure when, or whether, they will go back.

In Sayeda Zeinab, outside Damascus, a woman who fled a Shiite town blockaded by Sunni insurgents said she hoped her son would join the government fighters on his 15th birthday — in 2027. Nearby, another Syrian Shiite buried her husband, a pro-government militiaman killed in battle. She vowed never to return to her mostly Sunni village, just blocks away, after insurgents, including former neighbors, burned her family’s shop “because we are Shiites.”

“It’s over,” she said.

In the heart of the capital, even behind shop security gates newly and uniformly painted with the official Syrian flag, the government’s opponents say they are simply keeping their heads down. They say that few refugees trust promises of a safe return to once-rebellious areas.

Some vow to continue the struggle peacefully; others say fighters are giving up for lack of arms, or to spare their towns more destruction and starvation, but not generally from a change of heart.

“Now there is no point, no money, no weapons,” said one shopkeeper, who like many others asked not to be identified for his safety. “But I am sure there are thousands of young men who are just waiting for their chance to fight.”

Officials insist Syrians will soon return to living quietly together, and many on all sides fervently hope so. But the complaints about repression, corruption and inequality that set off protests in 2011 remain unaddressed. So do grievances that have grown exponentially during a war that has killed 150,000 people, deepened sectarian and political rifts and left seemingly every family with members killed, wounded, detained or kidnapped.

The scars are more widespread than those from the bloody Muslim Brotherhood insurgency that peaked in 1982, and its repression by security forces that killed tens of thousands and leveled the old city of Hama. Those wounds festered in silence for decades, helping fuel the current conflagration.

In a shift, the government now routinely acknowledges that many Syrians, not just foreigners, are fighting it. But whether to justify amnesties or to avoid making concessions, officials take the position that most Syrian insurgents are not politically motivated, but bribed, deceived, brainwashed or coerced — simple, illiterate people who will be welcomed back like wayward children.

Mr. Assad’s opponents say any reconciliation must be a two-way street. The government, they say, has to acknowledge that it systematically bombarded neighborhoods and arrested, tortured and killed peaceful protesters.

“They have to admit their wrongs and apologize to the Syrian people,” said another Damascus businessman. “There will be no political solution without transitional justice. Everyone on both sides who committed crimes must be tried.”

But some officials in charge of reconciliation say the state has nothing to apologize for. Major Ammar, a political security officer in Homs, his face partly paralyzed by an insurgent’s bullet, said he had forgiven his assailant, for Syria’s sake. But abuses and war crimes by security forces, he said, are “rumors” that “didn’t happen.”

He presides over a school building where former insurgents are held for security checks as they trickle out of the blockaded Old City in exchange for laying down their arms.

Hundreds have been released, but scores remain, some with families. In the courtyard, the major draped his arms around young Syrians’ necks, calling them new friends who join him for games of chess and soccer.

The men said they had fought for money or misguided beliefs. Echoing testimony over Skype from fighters inside, they said some rebel commanders had hoarded cigarettes, weapons and food while they starved.

“We ate cats,” said one. “We were about to eat people.”

He added, as the officer listened, “May God protect the army.”

Later, another whispered, “Not all we said was true.” After his evacuation, he said, “the heart is relieved, but the mind wonders what will happen to us.”

The government’s supporters in Homs were troubled by its decision to allow evacuations, grant amnesties and provide the limited food aid allowed in January into the Old City.

“They are empowering terrorists,” said Jamila Ali, 42, on a street divided by concrete barriers shielding pedestrians from insurgent snipers, whose bullets, she said, her young daughters narrowly escaped.

What few dispute is that the insurgents, at least in central Syria, are struggling.

“We will kiss the revolution in Homs goodbye in the next couple weeks,” one evacuated fighter, Abu Abdo al-Homsi, said by phone after his release from the school. Just 600 of what had been a force of 1,500 fighters remain in the Old City, he said, with a dozen leaving daily.

Mr. Assad has decisively defied President Obama’s two-year-old prediction that his days were “numbered.” He capitalized on strong support from his Syrian base and from Hezbollah, Russia and Iran; the disarray of domestic and international foes; and the rise of extremist insurgents who drained sympathy for the revolt among Syrian fence-sitters and many early supporters.

Now, he looks ahead to re-election and beyond. New posters depict him as a long-shot victor over a global assault. In Homs, one reads, “Resistance, steadfastness, victory, reconstruction.”

Yet in the city’s Bab Sbaa neighborhood, reclaimed from insurgents in 2012, entire blocks still lie gutted. Residents said they could not yet rebuild, or trust former neighbors, because fighting could surge again.

In Damascus, bustle has returned to the Old City, but merchants say customers are broke and sales anemic. The new cease-fires are widely seen as fragile, coerced or insincere.

For now, exhaustion, fear and shock at the steep costs of revolt seem to have central Syria battened down.

A shop owner who favors the insurgents said that a painter recently appeared with a government militiaman, offering to adorn his door with the official flag for $30.

“So I said yes,” he said, giggling. “And if they come with the TV, I too will say, ‘Bashar is the greatest.’ ”