Syria war: The entrepreneur opening bars in Damascus

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Syria war: The entrepreneur opening bars in Damascus

Image caption Somar Hazim had to close his hotel in 2013 after war caused the tourist industry in Syria to collapse

When civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, tourism was hit badly, forcing Somar Hazim to close his boutique hotel in Damascus.

While millions of Syrians fled their country, Somar decided to stay despite having lost his business.

Three years ago he started a new company and opened one of the first bars in the old town area of Syria's government-controlled capital.

Somar says nightlife in the city is thriving, despite Damascus being ranked the least liveable city in the world earlier this month.

Image copyright Cosette
Image caption Somar's bar Cosette opens at 7pm every day, and doesn't close until the last customer leaves

Drinks 'between mortar shelling'

Somar acknowledges that when he opened his first bar in 2015 – four years into the Syrian civil war – it was a tough time to start a business.

"Everybody was coming to see this place, to see who are those people who opened this place in the middle of the war," he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

A lot of Somar's friends told him he was crazy to put money into opening a bar at the height of the war, and he admits it was a gamble – but ultimately it's one that is paying off.

"Between mortar shelling you could go to this place and have a drink. I think that idea was really, really tempting for many people."

Image copyright Cosette
Image caption Cocktails are a speciality at Cosette

At the start of the summer, with the help of Russian forces, the Syrian government defeated the last rebel-held areas of Damascus.

Somar thinks the recent relative stability in Damascus has helped the city's nightlife find an identity.

"There were at the beginning like three or four places, and now there are like thirty places in the same street," he says.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Despite recent stability, areas of Damascus like Hajar al-Aswad have been devastated by the fighting (file photo)

Life for many in the capital might be starting to feel more normal than it has during the last seven years, but the war in Syria isn't over.

The United Nations estimates that there are still between 20,000 and 30,000 Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria and Iraq.

Somar is optimistic though.

"It was a bad time we had in Damascus," he says.

"It's not exactly the same city that it used to be before the war, but I think it's becoming another city."

Image copyright Somar Hazim
Image caption Somar's old boutique hotel in Damascus

Somar hopes to re-open his hotel in Damascus – "once we start to get a bit of tourism back".

"I think we need time to just forget about whatever happened during the last seven years. I think the best is yet to come."

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