After four years of war raging in Syria, the sight of armed military checkpoints has become almost normal to the population. This has prompted Syrians to devise ways to facilitate their transportation across these checkpoints, even if one were not sought after by this or that security branch, as is the norm.
Many Alawi villagers from the coastal region prefer to use minibuses rather than the larger Pullmans of larger transportation companies in their travel to Damascus; particularly following numerous kidnappings that occurred these Pullmans. These minbuses travel straight from their villages to Damascus, without having to wait for hours on end at checkpoints. Rather, they cross the military line on these checkpoints, norally resevred for military vehicles and ambulances. As soon as the minibus approached the checkpoint, the driver will utter a pseudo-password of "hey, mate" [in the distinct manner of Alawi villagers, denoting kinship]; thus denoting that all passengers aboard are regime loyalists. There would be no room for doubt of someone aboard being wanted by security, or for military service.
Coastal Cities Now Have Gates!
After the war spread to most areas of Syria, the regime resorted to completely sealing off cities' subsidiary entrances, in addition to placing checkpoints on the main entrances.
There are two checkpoints in Latakia, one of which was placed on the Aleppo road outside the city, while the other one on its southern entrance is called "the university" checkpoint. Muhammad from Jableh [in the Lattakia province], describes the situation in Lattakia as being relatively better than other cities, for its residents. He says: "Being the son of Jableh in the Lattakia region, I generally pass without having my identity checked when I enter Lattakia. They [the regime] generally check us, city inhabitants, when they search for those wanted for compulsory [military] service."
Elements barriers at Lattakia's entrances do not subject residents of Lattakia, Jableh or even of Banias and Tartous to ID checks; whereas reaidents of other areas, such as Damascus, Aleppo, Idlib, and other cities, are subject to considerable scrutiny before being allowed to pass.
And in the area between on the Jableh-Lattakia road, which also is the international highway connecting the city to Damascus, the [pro-regime] "National Defense" militias set up a checkpoint at the al-Mzayraah village bridge. The checkpoint scrutinizes each car coming out of Lattakia in the Jableh, Tartus, Damascus, or even Lebanon direction. This checkpoint is known for its random and improvised searches, and for limiting their search to vehciles with license plates belonging to other cities and provinces, or those heading to Lebanon. If a specific name arouses their suspicion, the person will be carted off to their secret gaols.
As for Jableh, characterized by its sectarian diversity, two checkpoints were created. One was placed at Jableh's northern entrance coming from Lattakia, under the control of Military Security; this checkpoint cheks for IDs of females and, more particularly, males, and makes sure that they are not wanted by any security agency. The other checkpoint is located at Jableh's southern entrance coming in from Tartous and the Jableh countryside, and exclusively checks vehicles coming from the interior provinces.
No Need for Checkpoints in Lattakia!
A security city par excellence such as Lattakia currently is, has no need for checkpoints between its neighborhoods; to the extent where a joke started spreading across the city, saying that evere Lattakia resident has two secruity men who tail his every move. In fact, most Lattakia checkpoints were set up either to remove cars' tinted windows, or to search for young men requested for their compulsory military service.
Amer, a young man who has performed his military service, is however worried to be called up for reserve duty. He says: "I try as much as possible to avoid checkpoints. I always use sideways, trying to slip between narrow and densely populated neighborhoods to get to work; or when I go for fun with my friends. I never pass through one of the flying checkpoints [impromptu, set up and removed at whim]. My friends and I try to inform each other of any such flying checkpoint, so that we can avoid it."
Death Chases Us!
We heard many tales of the restlessness prevalent among the regime's soldiers actually performing their mandatory service or called up for their reserve service. Some of them have actually found new ways to protect themselves: Some pay bribes to be transferred from the area to which they are assigned back to his own village or city, for service at one of the local checkpoints. It does not always end well, however; one soldier from the Banias region, who had been injured in the clashes around Aleppo between the regime's army and opposition factions, was transferred to the Hrayssoun village checkpoint, on the international highway linking Damascus and Lattakia.
One of his relatives tells Rozana: "It seems that death was chasing my relative, ever since Aleppo. After having been pleased by his presence among us, he suffered a traffic accident when an inebriated doctor bumped into his checkpoint, and killed him instantly!"