Wed, May 16, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Syrians flock to pop-up Ghouta markets following barren years spent under siege

AFP, DOUMA, Syria

People browse products at a pop-up market in Douma, Syria, on Sunday.

Photo: EPA

Ahead of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, a market in Syria’s ravaged Douma is drawing hundreds who can finally afford food, cleaning supplies and toys after years of siege.

Sponsored by the Syrian Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection, the four-day market opened on Sunday in a vast courtyard in Douma, the main town in the one-time opposition bastion of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.

Regime forces last month recaptured Ghouta after a ferocious offensive that displaced tens of thousands, both to government-controlled zones around Damascus and to opposition-held parts of northern Syria.

Those who stayed are trying to piece their lives together, and many from Douma and the surrounding towns headed to the market on Sunday to buy goods for their damaged homes.

Crowds of men, women and children streamed into the maze of stalls offering detergent, strained yoghurt and instant coffee, among other goods.

Umm Mohammad, a 50-year-old shopper, peered at the price tag on a can of processed meat before putting it back on the shelf.

“My kitchen in Douma was empty, but several days ago I started fixing it up and preparing it to be full of all kinds of things,” she told reporters.

She sported a full-body black robe and face veil and was already carrying bags weighed down with food.

“I’m going to rush home to my children after buying them butter and halvah,” she said, referring to a crumbly, sesame-based sweet.

The goods at the market cost just a fraction of what they did months ago, when a five-year siege made food, medicine and other basic goods either hard to find or too expensive.

As the stocks at storefronts dwindled over the years, Ghouta’s 400,000 residents were left relying on rare deliveries of humanitarian aid or products smuggled in through tunnels.

“I haven’t seen this in years,” said Hassan Saryoul, a 42-year-old resident, holding up a box of paper napkins.

“Napkins were like drugs — virtually banned. A kilo of sugar cost 22,000 Syrian pounds [US$43] but now it is around 500 pounds,” he told reporters.

He was carrying bags in both hands and struggling to maneuver around the masses of shoppers: “If I could carry even more things, I would have.”

Nearly 40 companies are displaying their wares at the “Goodness in Ghouta” market. It is the second such government-backed effort in Ghouta in recent weeks, after a similar market in the nearby town of Kafr Batna.

Syrian Minister of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection Abdullah al-Gharabi told reporters that a total of six such markets would be organized throughout Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting that began yesterday.

Ghouta fell to rebels in 2012 and was placed under a crippling siege the following year. With help from its ally Russia, the Syrian government recaptured Ghouta one month ago through a blend of military pressure and population transfer deals.

Raed Zabadina pulled bottles of laundry detergent, bleach and shampoo from the shelves behind him and packed them into bags for impatient customers.

“It’s natural there would be so many customers in the cleaning section. A big box of detergent costs 500 Syrian pounds here, while a small box in the past would cost 3,000 pounds,” he told reporters. “This amount was just impossible for people to pay.”

Mohammad al-Hafi, 31, was also barely able to catch his breath behind a booth selling City Cafe, the ubiquitous brand of Syrian instant coffee.

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