Syrians long for normality after year of turmoil

The violence has also made travelling around Syria hazardous

"I hail a taxi, which stops. But when I tell him where I'm going, the driver apologises and drives off," says Hisham, a Syrian construction worker in despair at the heavy security presence around Damascus.
Taxi drivers say they are "afraid of the security checkpoints" at entrances to built-up neighbourhoods, explains Hisham, 48, who lives in the suburbs and has to travel to building sites in different parts of the capital.
Like many Syrians, he gets around by taxi because owning a car is too expensive, especially now, with the sharp rise in petrol prices since anti-regime protests first erupted last March.
"Twenty litres of petrol costs 1,000 pounds ($14.3) today, while before the crisis we paid 800 pounds ($11.4)," says Nidal, a taxi driver.
In Damascus itself, tight security measures are now in place around public buildings after attacks against security bases in December killed dozens, adding to the sense of fear among the population.
A wall of reinforced concrete has been built around the interior ministry and checkpoints set up near military sites, while traffic has been diverted from roads housing police stations.
Such images contrast strongly with those of the city pre-crisis with its reputation for safety, at least relative to other capitals in the region.
The uprising, and the ferocious crackdown by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, has convulsed the lives of Damascus residents, who were used to going on weekend family trips to nearby villages like Zabadani and Ghuta.
But those who still dare to venture there risk having their trips cut short -- Ghuta was the scene of fierce fighting in January between regime troops and army deserters.
Going with his family to Zabadani recently to see the thick snow that had fallen around the village, a man was stopped at an army checkpoint and ordered to turn back, according to witnesses.
"It seems that you only watch the (pro-government) Dunia television station. Go home and watch Al-Jazeera," the witnesses quoted a soldier at the checkpoint telling him in a sarcastic tone of voice.
The Qatar-based news channel, as well as the Saudi-funded Al-Arabiya station, has given extensive coverage to the crisis, with Doha playing a leading diplomatic role in international efforts to halt the Assad regime's crackdown on dissent.
Damascus has accused the two Gulf states of airing the propaganda of "armed terrorist gangs" whom it blames for the bloodshed.
Frequent power outages are another headache for the local population, with electricity sometimes rationed to just six hours per day.
Electricity Minister Imad Mohamed Dib Khamis said the restrictions were caused by "an increase in demand... and the disruption of fuel supplies to power stations after attacks on pipelines by terrorist groups."
Rebels say the authorities are diverting fuel supplies to the army, for use in its campaign to quash the revolt in different parts of the country that activists say has cost more than 8,500 lives.
The violence has also made travelling around the country hazardous, sometimes separating families and blocking the delivery of basic goods.
Elham, who lives in the coastal city of Latakia in northwest Syria, bemoans the fact that she is unable to see her daughter who lives in Damascus.
"She used to visit us every weekend. I miss her so much. But I'm afraid that armed men will attack the bus that brings her here," she said by phone, adding that she hadn't seen her daughter for four months.
But the 52-year-old mother admits that her "sacrifice" is nothing compared to the suffering of families, bereaved by the violence.