Damascus: Syria’s government has launched a slew of initiatives to retain control in the areas controlled by the regime.

As part of the move, Syria has launched a campaign against armed gangs who have been active since the start of the conflict in 2011 and patronised by government officials, militiamen and war profiteers.

Twenty-two military checkpoints have been dismantled in the coastal city of Latakia, and according to well-informed sources, many will be torn down inside the Syrian capital after the Eid holidays.

Joint patrols of military and civilian police have been stationed on the Mezzeh Highway in modern Damascus and the Bab Touma neighbourhood of the Old City, charged with arresting any person carrying illegal or unsolicited weapons, wearing military fatigues if not in the armed forces, or driving around with tinted windows and armed motorcades, “regardless of rank or title”.

The only exception will be for heads of security branches, and the only arms tolerated are those “of policemen on duty”.

Gas stations have been instructed to refuse filling cars, both military and civilian, with tinted windows. Cars playing loud “religious music” (in reference to Shiite hymns) have been banned, and so has the raising of any “non-Syrian flag” (i.e. Hezbollah).

Roadblocks and concrete walls, which became common in front of the homes of regime officials and government buildings, will be brought down as well, as of early July.

“My neighbour is married to the daughter of a big shot in the government,” said one Damascene resident who refused to be named. “…When he leaves his house, soldiers are stationed at the entrance and exit of the street, carrying automatic weapons. They prevent any car or pedestrian from passing by, and four armed men surround his car, with their backs to the tinted windows, pointing their guns at rooftops. Another four run after the car as it embarks, waving their rifles left and right like the mafia, while cameras are perched on every street corners. Who is he afraid of? He is a nobody. He hasn’t visited the war front in his life but insists on such security precautions because they make him look and feel important.”

Asked if such actions are still taking place, he said: “For now yes, but we hope that after the current campaign, this madness will come to an end.”

Based on orders from President Bashar Al Assad, guns are now banned in residential neighbourhoods, and citizens who see such practices are encouraged to call a hotline set up for reporting directly to the Ministry of Interior.

Al Assad has empowered his Interior Minister Mohammad Al Shaar to arrest regime thugs who refuse to abide by the new orders, and to report to him directly if that happens. This part of a carefully orchestrated campaign launched by the Syrian president on Thursday is aimed at showing the world that the “war in Damascus has come to an end” and that the state is eradicating militia rule and thuggish behaviour.

Last Tuesday, Al Assad delivered a speech before the cabinet of ministers, which was aired on state television. “I stop at checkpoints and traffic lights, and I don’t think that my delay in reaching any destination will change the course of this war. But there are those who think that if they are late and that if they stop at traffic lights, they will change the face of the Middle East, and perhaps the entire world as well.”

Al Assad added: “Such practices are no longer acceptable from this moment on. Cutting off streets is a violation of the law, and those who do it are psychologically ill people plagued with all kinds of inferiority complexes. They are marginal and worthless and try to cover up for their inferiority with such behaviour.”