SYRIA - As I walk along one of the alleys in the poorer district of the city, where the ancient houses tilt and threaten to crumble, I spot, sitting there against the wall, a young mustached man. When he saw me approaching he rose and moved forward to block my path.
He was wearing civilian clothes, but the gun sticking out of the belt of his trousers was noticeable.
Synagogue in Damascus
I explained to him in English-laced Arabic what I was seeking. You cannot, he answered. After a brief negotiation and the handing over of several bills, the plainclothes officer – or was he a member of the al-Mukhabarat (Syrian intelligence) – was content and walked over to a narrow alley between two houses.
A bridge over the Euphrates: the reporter is on the left
Ten minutes later a short man of about 50 came towards me, wrapped in a Jewish prayer shawl. "What can I do for you?" the Jewish man asked in French. I decided to avoid taking a risk and identified myself as a tourist, a geography professor. Albert Kamao mulled this over for a moment and then without asking any further questions, told me to come in two hours time, towards the end of the prayer.
"Yom Kippur is a holy day for us, the Jews," he said, in English now. "We do not wish to be disturbed while we pray to the creator of the world and ask him for forgiveness." I did as he instructed.