The Vice Consul in Charge at Damascus (Alling) to the Secretary of State

No. 450

Sir: I have the honor to report that the state of public security in this district has shown gradual improvement during the past two months. Disorder still reigns in certain sections of the territory, and during the past two weeks small bands have penetrated even as far as Damascus, but with one exception fighting on a large scale appears to have ceased. The only section of the district where any battle of importance has taken place is in the Leja, a mountainous labyrinth of volcanic lava located from twenty-five to thirty miles to the southeast of Damascus. Here one of the last large remaining bands of the revolutionists has taken refuge and has held its position in spite of energetic attempts on the part of the French to force its withdrawal. A more or less provisional form of government has been set up in the Jebel Druse itself, but small bands there continue to harass unprotected travelers and to snipe at French columns and outposts. In the meantime the Syrian Government of Ahmed Namy Bey has developed internal dissensions, which have only recently been adjusted through the formation of a new cabinet.

In the following pages an attempt is made to discuss these various points in more detail, but here it may be said that though the backbone of the revolution appears to have been broken, at least unless aid arrives from some unexpected source, it may be a period of several weeks or even months before any definite settlement is made; or, indeed, the revolution may eventually die out without the necessity of any formal peace. At the present time the situation in this respect is still too confused to permit of an accurate or reliable estimate.

As suggested above, public security has shown unmistakable signs of improvement since the late summer. The motor road between Beirut and Damascus, which was opened to traffic about the middle [Page 154] of October after having been closed for nearly a year, has continued to be used to an increasing extent. The French Authorities state that they are taking special steps to make the highway safe on Tuesdays and Fridays by sending out patrols and armored cars. Even on the other days of the week the traffic is relatively heavy, sometimes as many as twenty or thirty cars a day making the trip. So far as can be learned there have been no untoward incidents as a result of this movement on the highway. In addition, a native automobile transport company has been operating passenger cars between Damascus and Bagdad for about three weeks, and within the past four days the first convoys of the Nairn Transport Company to enter the city in many months came in from Bagdad. It is understood that the Nairn Company now intends to resume its original route from Beirut to Bagdad via Damascus and Kutbah Wells.

All of these points indicate an improvement in the general security of the outlying districts, but in spite of this the situation is not yet thoroughly in hand. Villagers from the Hauran and from the Jebel Druse who have recently visited the city report that it is unsafe for the ordinary traveler, whether native or foreign, to circulate freely in the areas that were subject to disturbance. There is general uncertainty as to the movements of small bands of marauding rebels, as is indicated by the fact that twice within the past week small brigand forces have penetrated close enough to the city of Damascus to exchange rifle fire with French outposts. The sound of artillery shelling these bands in the Ghouta has been heard nearly every day for a week. With these exceptions, the city itself has been quiet. The streets, however, are still barricaded with barbed wire entanglements, and machine gun and rifle posts are still maintained and manned with soldiers. In the center of the city circulation is permitted until midnight, but in the outlying quarters the barriers are closed at nine o’clock, after which time a pass is required. One of these barricades is located at about 200 yards from the Consulate and quite recently the Turkish Consul had considerable difficulty in passing it on returning to his residence from a dinner at the home of a French official. Armed troops are everywhere in evidence in the city, and it is noticeable that French soldiers, even when off duty, carry side arms or bayonets. From these various circumstances one gathers the impression that even though all appears to be calm the authorities, probably from past experiences, deem it wise to adopt a policy of preparedness and caution.

That all the disturbances are not confined to the southern section of the district is indicated by the fact that on the night of November 29th a band of about twenty brigands entered the city of Homs, [Page 155] where, after killing two persons, they broke into the house of a prominent Christian and carried off 10,000 Turkish Gold Pounds in cash and jewelry. Throughout the whole night the city is said to have been disturbed by the rattle of rifle fire and the explosion of hand grenades as a result of a skirmish between the troops and this band.

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From the somewhat confused mass of details discussed above it will be apparent that, though fighting on a large scale has apparently finished, the general state of the district is far from peaceful. It is indeed unlikely that large forces of rebels will again roam at will over the countryside, at least not in the near future, but petty brigandage by small bands, highway robberies, and the slaying of French outposts and sentries may be expected even after a formal declaration of peace. It may also be predicted with a reasonable degree of certainty that as soon as the French reduce their military effectives in the district there will be another outbreak, unless, indeed, the Mandatory Authorities are prepared to grant a degree of independence which now seems unlikely. The temper of the people is smoldering, and any opportunity to throw off those whom the Syrians consider as their conquerors will be seized upon quickly.

In any event it will undoubtedly take many months to bring the state of public security and the economic situation up to a point comparable to that existing prior to the beginning of hostilities. It seems probable too that any formal peace will not be made before the High Commissioner has made his impending visit to France to receive instructions. In the interim it is expected that the insurgents will make numerous minor attempts to harass the French forces, which, now that the winter rains have arrived, find themselves more or less confined to their garrisons.

I have [etc.]

Paul H. Alling