Since Syria’s armed unrest began in earnest some two years ago, amateur video shot by FSA forces has been filtering out of the country as they continue to clash with army forces loyal to president Bashar al-Assad. Often, these videos depict scenes of intense urban warfare, and it’s not uncommon for these rebel groups to boast of recent upsets against the Syrian army.
By contrast, both the government and the army have been fairly mum regarding their operations, which is why it was unusual when several videos shot directly from Syrian mechanized units surfaced via the Abkhazian Network News Agency on YouTube.
ANNA, a Russian-language news outlet based out of the disputed territory of Abkhazia on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, seems to have regular access to Syrian army personnel, as its YouTube channel offers a long list of interviews with hospital patients. (See: “Wounded, but not broken,” which is particularly stark.) Its most recent videos depict the army’s offensive in Dariyya, a suburb of Damascus, and offers a remarkable view into the ongoing violence that has swept through the entire country.
Consultation with various sources within and outside Syria suggests that the videos are authentic, and correlate with the army’s recent operations on February 14th and 15th. The fact that the clips made their way to the web via ANNA, an outlet which is unapologetically pro-Assad, only a few days later suggests that they were purposely leaked, if not directly handed over to the news agency.
Foreign press has essentially been blocked from reporting on events within Syria since the unrest began to spread in March of 2011, and even high profile outfits such as NBC News have not been immune to detention by pro-government militias. What little information has come out of the fighting in Syria has been via amateur reporting spread through social media, or, as in the case of Frontline’s recent documentary work, dangerous field work produced only by the most experienced outlets around. Though recently the situation in the Northwest of Syria, where the government's border control with Turkey has weakened, has allowed adventurous journalists like Carl Fridh Kleberg to filter into Aleppo and the surrounding region.
Regardless of how ANNA managed to obtain these recent videos out of the Syrian capital, they offer a rare opportunity to gauge just how much the region has suffered during the civil warfare that has raged for years now.
In the above video in particular, images of the suburb as it looked before fighting broke out is shown side-by-side with the footage captured by Syrian tanks as they roll through (skip to 7:50). Flip through these scenes, and you’ll quickly realize that it doesn’t take intimate knowledge of the area to appreciate the level of destruction that’s been unleashed there. What were once streets lined with busy shops are now deserted sidewalks and ruined building facades that stretch out in every direction.
Block after block of the once populous Darayya suburb appear devoid of life, which is not surprising considering that Syria’s refugee outflow officially hit one million this week, a figure which in a relatively short time has come to rival those of neighboring conflict zones, such as Iraq.
Regardless of which side will ultimately come out on top from Syria’s civil war, as these videos suggest there may not be much of a country left before any sort of meaningful ceasefire is achieved.