A TIME reporter was in Syria’s restive Idlib province when news broke that Defense Minister Daoud Rajiha and deputy army chief, Assef Shawkat — who is also President Bashar Assad’s brother-in-law — had been killed in a dramatic attack in one of the most secure areas of Damascus, the country’s capital and the heart of the regime.
Celebratory gunfire filled the air even as some fighters admonished their comrades to “Save the bullets! We will need them.” To which came the reply, “Not today!”
There was reason not to draw too much attention, however. The town is surrounded by regime tanks and one fired off a shell in response to the armed merriment. The Assad loyalists had been through the community of 50,000 people several months ago–with the burnt out remains of shops and homes in painful evidence. Many of the shops have not reopened since, their gates warped and broken even as they shutter their wares.
Nevertheless, the celebration over the deaths of the dreaded officials in Damascus soon became an impromptu parade, with people marching behind several pick-up trucks. A local mosque blared out the news as well, sending a message to the loyalist troops just outside the town: “You are out brothers! Join us!”
Despite being ravaged by the regime’s army, Idlib has been trying to propel the uprising in Damascus. According to Free Syrian Army sources, the province has responded to requests from rebels in the capital by sending 1,500 fighters to Damascus. The request was specifically for ex-soldiers, not civilians. More apparently are on the way.
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And so a sense of anticipation filled the streets, a feeling that the fall of Damascus was imminent. And that has made the people of Idlib happy to waste a few bullets.