The presence of Shiite militias in the Syrian capital has increased significantly as the Assad regime facilitates the entry of militias to support pro-regime troops in the battles against opposition forces. Residents of Damascus now describe their city as being "occupied" by Iranians, claiming a number of neighborhoods in the city of Damascus are being emptied of their local population.
Damascus Media Office representative Karim ash-Shami told al-Souria Net that every Shiite fighter arriving in Damascus brings their family and resides in regions and districts known now as Shiite strongholds in Damascus – including the neighborhoods of Jaafar as-Sadeq near Bab Touma in old Damascus, al-Amin neighborhood in Shaghour and Zine El Abidine neighborhood in al-Muhajireen area, near the Presidential palace.
Ash-Shami stressed that these Shiite militias hail from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Bahrain, but alarmingly, these groups have begun to purchase property in Damascus, offering owners large amounts of money. Ash-Shami said that in Shaghour and Jaafar as-Sadiq, militia members buy houses from owners at rates higher than market prices, threatening to create a demographic shift and empty these areas of their local inhabitants.
Ash-Shami also explained that some of the houses left empty after regime forces seized them have since been given to these Shiite militias.
In addition to an increased presence of these militias in the houses of the capital, a large number of them also live in hotels in al-Bahsa and al-Marjah in the city center, or reside the outskirts of the capital, such as as-Sayeda Zainab – a sacred Shiite site. Ash-Shami said that pro-regime forces arrive at these hotels from time to time to visit their families, while the areas around these hotels witness a huge security presence, often surrounded by many checkpoints.
As the numbers of militia members in Damascus increases, so does their power. Ash-Shami confirmed that the influence of Shiite militias has become stronger than that of the regime forces.
Hezbollah militias have also established secret offices in Damascus. "Only the decision-makers and officials know the locations of these offices", says ash-Shami. The mission of these offices is to manage the coordination on all fronts between the militias, in addition to the truces, reconciliations and detainees files. "They have greater power than Bashar al-Assad himself", ash-Shami added.
Resentment has increased among Damascus’ residents, especially after the display of Shiite religious rites exercised by the militia throughout the streets of the capital. The bitterness peaked when video footage surfaced of a group of Shiite Iraqis in the heart of the Umayyad Mosque portrayed the men claiming: "We have regained our right. Umayyad Mosque is back to its owners".
Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer