Maintaining normalcy in war-torn Syria

(CBS News) DAMASCUS- In Syria Thursday, rebel fighters said they'd captured a military base in a key oil-producing region. Meanwhile, a government airstrike near a hospital in Aleppo killed at least 15 people.

Activists say at least 20,000 Syrians have been killed in the 20-month-old civil war. Fighting is also intensifying around the capital, Damascus. The regime rarely allows foreign journalists inside, but CBS News is there.

We weren't allowed to film the Syrian military's shelling of the capital's suburbs, but opposition activists captured many of the strikes on their cell phones.

The bombardment is happening within view - and certainly within earshot - of downtown Damascus.

We asked Syria's Minister of Information, Omran Ahed al-Zouabi, what it means for the regime. Asked whether Syria was losing this fight, having lost a lot of territory, he responded: "Of course not," referring to the armed opposition as terrorists. "They don't have any popular support and most of them aren't even Syrian."

Full transcript of Palmer's interview with the Syrian Minister of Information

Everybody knows that like a noose, the fighting is slowly tightening around the capital. And yet with no solution and no peace agreement in sight, people are increasingly anxiously clinging to the routines of their normal lives.

Or at least what passes for normal these days: driving to work past military checkpoints; trying to ignore the charred wreckage of car bomb assassinations; not to mention the huge water tankers parked outside Syria's central bank in case it takes a direct hit.

In short, people are putting on a brave face to mask the constant stress.

"Our children don't go to school anymore ," this man told me, "and every day we're scared by the noise of shelling."

In fact, in the safest inner-city neighborhoods, most schools are still working and under huge pressure to accept children whose families have fled from the bombed suburbs.

Just look at this sixth-grade class: about fifty-five 11-year-olds crammed in for the first of two shifts. A bomb, this boy told me, went off right next to his old school. His classmate said an explosion near his home had made the whole building shake.

Does Syria's government accept the blame for any of this? "No," said the minister. "It's the fault of armed groups who take refuge in populated areas and carry out a huge amount of butchery and bombing."

There are still people left in the bombed-out neighborhoods in the outskirts of Damascus, not a lot--maybe 80 percent of the population in some areas are gone. But those who are left have nothing but luck to protect them from the bombing.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."

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