Tunnels stretch into the darkness, some wide enough to drive a car through. In Eastern Ghouta, Syrian rebels left behind an underground labyrinth, fitted with hospitals and military headquarters.
“This network of tunnels is a real spider’s web,” said a Syrian army official who escorted journalists on a visit Monday to areas of the Damascus suburb recaptured from the rebels.
President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have recaptured 95 percent of Eastern Ghouta since launching a blistering air and ground assault six weeks ago on the besieged enclave, imposing evacuation agreements on rebel groups.
In the capital’s Jobar district, an entrance to the underground network lies in the basement of a school converted into military headquarters by the Islamist group Faylaq al-Rahman.
The tunnels are dug about 15 metres (50 feet) deep. The walls are reinforced with metal rods and the tunnels are equipped with surveillance cameras and lights.
Some corridors are wide enough to drive a car through, while others can only be accessed on foot.
The network is about five kilometres (three miles) long, connecting Jobar with the rebel-held areas of Ain Tarma and Zamalka.
On Saturday, the army took full control of the area following a Russian-brokered evacuation deal which saw thousands of fighters and civilians bussed out of Ghouta.
In talks leading up to the deal, Russia, the Syrian government’s strongest ally, demanded that the rebels hand over the plans of the tunnel network.
In one underground room, shells arranged by firing range sat in chests marked with the names of Damascus districts.
The rebels who once held the area regularly shelled the capital, killing and wounding civilians.
“The network of tunnels connected ammunition warehouses under buildings, places difficult to identify for the Syrian air force,” the military official said.
The official SANA news agency said the military also found two underground field hospitals, equipped with medical equipment and medicine.
With rebel-held Eastern Ghouta under government siege since 2013, tunnels were used to smuggle food, medicine and fuel into the area.
In 2017, government troops tightened the siege, destroying many tunnels. Jobar’s network, however, survived.
At the exit of the tunnel, not a single civilian was in sight, only soldiers who scanned streets lined with buildings smashed into concrete carcasses and littered with rubble and corrugated metal.