Since the beginning of 2012, the state of affairs across Syria has deteriorated further. In Qatana, a largely Sunni town 20 miles southwest of Damascus, tanks have returned to the streets. Locals must now do without electricity for 12 hours each day.
In Jdeidet Artouz, a religiously mixed town of Sunnis, Christians, and Alawites southwest of Damascus where I lived for 18 months, recent weeks have seen dozens of protesters become hundreds. They block street traffic using huge free-Syria flags. Yet the security forces drive by the demonstrations in cars adorned with symbols of the regime -- and do nothing.
I asked my local shopkeeper why the authorities are not breaking up the protests.
"Do you watch Tom and Jerry?" he replied. "Here it is the same; they are playing a game."
The waiting game is also being played in the capital. Damascenes watch footage from Homs, but do not act. A few -- those who have family and friends killed or tortured by the regime -- are taking to the streets in increasing numbers, but the majority remain silent.
"We are not used to this," Damascenes constantly told me. They see Homs and think that nothing is worth the same devastation visiting their own streets and homes.
Almost every week, friends and acquaintances disappear. Close friendships are consigned to the past because, when you're on the run from the security forces, you don't have money for phone credit.
Conversation dies after 11 months of unrest. "What can we talk about?" a state employee asked me. "The news? We'd rather talk about anything else." Many are not afraid to criticize the regime, but most are too frightened to take to the streets.
Syria's minorities are frozen in fear. Christians spend hours watching the television station run by Adnan al-Arour, a Salafi Syrian cleric based in Riyadh who broadcasts videos of rebels shouting Islamic slogans and issues threats to pro-Assad minorities while calling for the establishment of an Islamic government. "Who will protect us?" one Christian woman asked me recently. "Will they make us wear Islamic dress?"
Ultimately it was the scenes at Saqba in eastern Damascus that prompted me to leave. An English journalist in Syria on a temporary visa asked whether I was interested in visiting to search out an underground, activist-run hospital. Frustrated at hearing of other journalists making it to Homs, I could not turn down the opportunity.
I saw six bloated bodies hidden under pine trees inside a schoolyard, some missing eyes, lips, noses. Another dead man blackened by fire. They were hidden by locals so that their families could bury them in dignity at a later time, when the regime's forces left.
I feared that if the Syrian security forces found out what I had seen, they would not hesitate to silence me -- perhaps blaming the "armed gangs" for doing so.