Running a gauntlet of gunfire to bring back bread

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For bread, they risk their lives. In a suburb of the capital Damascus, every day and in every hour of daylight, men, women and children run a gauntlet of gunfire to bring bread back to their homes.

Families wait for gaps in the gunfire as they clutch their bread
Families wait for gaps in the gunfire as they clutch their bread Credit: ITV News

They're on the frontline of a bitter, deadlocked war in one of several suburbs that ring the city.

Their homes are in a largely rebel controlled area, Yarmouk.

For the most part, it is a maze of cinderblock houses and narrow streets, housing tens of thousands of Syrians and Palestinians, themselves refugees from a different conflict.

Every day thousands of them leave Yarmouk, in huddled groups of ten or twenty people, to feed their families. Women cradle infants or pull reluctant children behind them, men carry plastic bags with a few possessions or things to sell.

At its far end Yarmouk opens up into a few wide streets, lined with six story blocks of flats. This is contested ground.

On one side are the rebels who've held Yarmouk for months. On the other forces loyal to President Assad.

Each set of gunmen allows the people free passage. But as soon as the people pass, each side takes the opportunity to shoot into the streets controlled by the other side.

Hundreds of thousands used to live here, but streets are virtually deserted now
Hundreds of thousands used to live here, but streets are virtually deserted now Credit: ITV News

The people buy their bread at a government-controlled bakery which is heaving with hundreds of people desperate for food before the supply of flour runs out.

And then they go back to the frontline junction and a street that is littered with empty shells.

Local men in orange bibs line them up. The men in army uniform bring them forward until it is judged safe to cross.

Then they usher them forward, to dash over the junction and down the road. It is a heart-stopping moment, like someone poised on a cliff before plunging into the water beneath.

It's a fight for survival - at the bakery demand is intense
It's a fight for survival - at the bakery demand is intense Credit: ITV News

To see them wince at the sound of bullets before they sprint, is an insight into the daily terror they endure.

Many of their faces are filled with apprehension, with fear. They are running for their lives every day. And they are weary of it.

The gunmen in uniform are not what they seem. They are not full time Syrian army soldiers.

A few months ago they were full time workers. One is a banker, one an engineer, another a mechanic.

They believed their district was about to be attacked and overrun by people they believe to be terrorists and foreigners.

They have been trained and armed by the Syrian army, so regular soldiers can fight elsewhere. They are the Home Guard of their area. They have forty days training, weapons from the army, automatic rifles and machine guns.

Men in army uniform in Damascus

They fight to hold back the rebel advance.

They don't agree with everything Assad has done. They too wanted reform years ago. But they believe a rebel victory will usher in a Syria ruled by Islamic extremists, who will make life hell for secular Syrians, Christians, Druze and anyone who doesn't adhere to their strict interpretation of Islam.

While we were on the frontline at Yarmouk, there were periods of intense gunfire as each side traded shots. Men have died here recently. But the frontline hasn't moved for months. It is a war of potshots and deadlock.

And amid it all, civilians run for their lives clutching their warm bread, clutching the faint hope that one day, this horror will come to an end.