by Hummam Sheikh Ali
DAMASCUS, Aug. 25 (Xinhua) -- The high-profile Damascus' international trade fair is surprisingly attracting picnic lovers, not only those searching for trade deals and marketing.
On the large swathes of green patches in the sprawling fairground, southeast of Damascus, hundreds of people and youngsters have chosen to enjoy summertime picnics, especially the cool weather in that part of the capital in the August summer.
For them, the fairground is a perfect summer spot, as many of them are not so much into the marketing or the trade exhibition, particularly with the tough economic situation.
And it seems like enjoying a cool breeze and the upbeat mode in the fair doesn't cost a thing, especially as the government has assigned free trips to the fairground, near the Damascus international airport.
During a trip of Xinhua to the fair, which has started almost nine days ago, people were seen enjoying their time, eating nuts and some of them were making tea on retro teapot gas-stoves.
They said that opening the fair, the first to take place since 2011, has given them a sense of long-missed security, now that all of the former rebel-held areas in the surrounding of the airport and the fairground are free of rebels.
Still, areas in the nearby Ghouta countryside are still under the rebels' control but largely included in the internationally-backed de-escalation zones' deal, which includes a cease-fire.
However, some areas in the Ghouta region are still under the control of al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, but cannot pose a real threat to the capital with larger rebel groups in the region signing the de-escalation zones' deal.
Earlier this week, a mortar shell fired from Ghouta landed at the gate of the fairgrounds, killing seven people, but surprisingly that one-time attack didn't stop the people from thronging the fairground.
"As for the fair, it gave us a sense of security and relief and we came here not for shopping, as it was the last thing we were thinking about," Ahmad, a Damascus resident said, bringing his wife and two little children.
"We missed coming to this area over the years and now it's secure with a lot of people coming, which gave us a sense of relief and we came here for recreation, nothing more," he said.
Sitting next to him on the grass, Samar, Ahmad's wife, said holding the fair has helped people in the capital to get out of the stressful mode of the war.
"The most important thing is that we are finally able to get out of the stressful mode we have been living for years and to see the crowds of people having fun as they used to do before the crisis," she said, with her children playing around.
She said they wanted to take their children to see the fair for the first time and to have fun as well.
It's the case with the majority of the Damascenes, who used to come to the fair in pre-war times and enjoy the social activities such as concerts and theatrical plays.
In its current edition, the fair is being held for ten days, unlike before when it was held for almost a month.
The organizers have planned concerts for local and Arab singers every day, to add to the upbeat mode of the event, where a total of 1,600 companies took part in the fair, including foreign ones from 43 countries.
"I came here for both recreation and shopping, but more recreation than shopping because before the crisis we had experienced the joyful atmosphere in the fair such as the concerts and theatrical plays," Dima, a school teacher, told Xinhua.
She said the crowds that have flocked the fairgrounds this year "made us forget about the crisis and war."
On another spot, Jamil and his wife Aisha were sitting eating cracks and drinking tea.
Jamil said he is a displaced man who left his town near the fairground when the rebels took over to the government-controlled Jaramana neighborhood southeast of Damascus.
"The situation here is good, normal and joyful and coming here this year means a lot for us as we are now relaxing and enjoying our time," he said, wishing to return to his home when the reconstruction process begins in the towns that have been destroyed by war.
His wife, Aisha, also shared his thoughts, saying holding the fair is a sign that their return to their home is near.
"We are happy we came here because it has been a long while since we got out like this which makes us feel secure and safe back again," she said.
State-run media outlets said that around 350,000 people are visiting the fairgrounds on daily basis.
For the government, the fair aims to send a political and economic message, in addition to the social activities enjoyed by the people.
The main message is that Syria is recovering on both the political and economic levels, thanks to the wide-scale progress by the Syrian army across the country.
The fair aimed at attracting investments, mainly on the reconstruction level.
Syria's Prime Minister Imad Khamis said Tuesday that hundreds of companies from several countries are getting in touch with the Syrian government to invest in the reconstruction process in the war-torn country, where entire cities are in ruins.
"Now we are signing agreements emanating from the vision that Syria has started recovering and is now investing through the victories of the army," Khamis said.
The prime minister said that his government has a "clear vision" about the reconstruction process, noting that the priority will be everything that could elevate the production capacity of Syria.
He said that Syria is "completing its victory on terrorism," noting that the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, and Latakia are "safer" than any other neighboring countries.
Khamis said the fair secured 50,000 job opportunities as well as "huge and unexpected" export contracts.
On the military progress, the prime minister said the current military operation against the Islamic State (IS) group in the Syrian Desert has increased the energy level in the country, with the army recapturing key gas and oil fields that had fallen to IS throughout the crisis.
He said the Syrians are fighting terrorism in tandem with the ongoing efforts on the economic level to enhance the hard-hit economy in Syria.
Meanwhile, Khamis stressed that the Syrian army will not leave one inch in Syria under the terrorists' control.