Syrians stand at the scene of an explosion in the Mazzeh al-Jabal district of Damascus, Nov. 5, 2012. / AP/SANA
DAMASCUS Like a noose, war is drawing in tight around the Syrian capital.
While the citizens of Damascus wait anxiously for good news -- that someone, somewhere has found a solution -- they try to adjust to the new normal.
That new normal consists of the sporadic thunder of mortar fire, night and day, military checkpoints that choke rush hour traffic to a standstill, and two huge water-tankers blocking the road outside Syria's central bank -- in case it takes a direct hit and catches fire.
The new normal is kids no longer allowed to play outside because car bombs explode without warning -- often near Security Service buildings, but not always.
There are stray bullets in once peaceful parks, and everywhere the signs of an economy on its knees.
Lost and shocked souls, some 175,000 of them, have flooded into Damascus from the blasted towns and villages in the surrounding area. After 18 months of slow-motion civil war, the communities around the capital are now wastelands of smashed concrete, shelled apartments and groups of roving rebel fighters toting AK-47s.
Foreign journalists are not allowed to travel to the suburbs ("for your own safety," says the Syrian government), but even from inside the city, we can hear and see the Syrian regime's forces firing mortars and shells into these areas.
It's hard to tell how many people are still living in the rubble and filth of these once-thriving neighborhoods. They were also centers of resistance, from the very beginning of the uprising, against President Bahsar Assad.
That was more than 20 months ago. Now, one local opposition activist has estimated that 80 percent of the inhabitants of the suburbs have fled. The few thousand who remain are civilians too poor or too ill to leave, or opposition supporters who have picked up guns and video cameras to fight.
The Syrian military hasn't explained why its artillery and warplanes are shelling these suburbs so relentlessly. With the inevitable toll on civilian life and infrastructure, it seems a crude and inefficient way to try and defeat the highly mobile, lightly armed small groups of rebel fighters.
It may, however, be the only offensive Assad's desperately over-stretched and poorly trained army can muster.
Judging from the new normal, with the sound of gunfire edging closer to downtown every week, it's not working.