Threat of Syria raids casts pall over new school term in nation’s capital

By Rana Moussaoui ,AFP

DAMASCUS — With one week left before school starts in Damascus, parents hoping it might bring a bit of normalcy to their youngsters have yet another headache with the threat of U.S. military strikes. The civil war has seriously disrupted education in Syria. More than 40 percent of children aged between six and 15 no longer attend school, says the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF), after 30 months of bloody conflict that has killed more than 110,000 people. In the capital, schools have fared comparatively well, even though many are used as shelters for those displaced by fighting on the outskirts of Damascus. But the military action being mulled over by Washington and its allies has heightened the stress for parents already coping with supply shortages and rising costs, not to mention concern about long-term trauma war may cause their children. Like many families, Muwaffaq, his wife, daughter and son headed to the historic Hamidieh souk in the heart of Damascus to buy supplies before the term starts Sept. 15. “With the war drums beating in the United States, who knows what will happen? The schools could very well close,” he says. On Monday, the U.S. Congress is due to begin debating whether to approve President Barack Obama’s calls for military intervention against Damascus over alleged chemical weapons attacks on Aug. 21 said to have killed hundreds. “Of course we are worried for the schools,” says Nuhad, a 30-something mother of three wearing a white headscarf. “It depends on the areas. For example, we live near a possible target in Damascus, so it’s not very reassuring.”

“Many parents are waiting for a strike. Others are already saying they won’t send their children to school if things get worse,” says Ahmed, a shopkeeper on Meskiya Street, as he arranges packets of felt-tip pens.

Since the war came to the suburbs around the capital, residents say they have been signing their children up for schools closer to their homes.

“Damascus has been on the edges of the war for two years now, but the fear is that the war spreads and the schools close,” says Mahmud Subhiya, buying a packet of pencils for his son.