Anxiety and anger as Syria braces for missile strike

Bill Neely

Former International Editor

UN chemical weapons experts drive through the suburbs of Damascus in Syria. Credit: Reuters

You might almost say it's been a normal day in Damascus, or what passes for normal in Syria's capital.

Traffic is flowing and shops are open in the centre. Plumes of smoke are rising from the suburbs and the thud of artillery shells breaks through the din of car horns. All tragically normal in today's Damascus.

But there's a looming cloud.

After last week's clouds of poison gases in the suburbs, people here are bracing themselves for the expected missile retaliation from America.

One government official told me: "We're expecting it. We know it's coming, we just don't know when."

On the streets there's defiance.

A few dozen protesters chanted "we will die for Bashar" outside the hotel where the UN weapons inspectors stay.

The President himself was defiant as ever today, promising that Syria will defend itself with "a brave army and steadfast people".

But there's anxiety too.

The queue to leave Syria at its border with Lebanon was longer than usual. Many who have endured conflict for two years have cracked at the prospect of cruise missile strikes.

Those who stay are reported to be stocking up on food, water and candles.

There's fear; that the missiles will hit chemical weapons stockpiles and send gases over the city; that the UN inspectors are leaving a day early, therefore they must know an attack is imminent. The fear is understandable.

There's anger too. One well-dressed, middle class woman got out of her car to berate us; "you journalists only come here to film us being bombed by NATO, but we will not die", she shouted.

Apprehension of a massive missile attack and, as I write, the nightly thud of missiles fired by Syria's army at the rebels who have been their biggest enemy, until now.