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Thousands facing starvation in Syria, activists warn

Thousands of civilians near the Syrian capital Damascus are facing a risk of starvation due to a tight military siege imposed by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, activists have warned. More than 15,000 residents of the Eastern Ghouta region, on the outskirts of Damascus, are denied access to food essentials as the blockade has entered its third month. “Many villages ran out of bread and canned food supplies a month ago,” Mohammed al-Damawi, an activist with the so-called Local Co-ordination Committees in the Damascus suburban area of Doma, told dpa on Saturday.

“Now people are dying from hunger, and with the regime’s blockade, all we can do is watch.” The claim came less than a week after international charity Save the Children warned that a lack of access to food, soaring prices and a collapse in food production had left the children of Syria at risk of malnutrition. The aid agency made the statement after gathering testimony from refugees in neighbouring countries, as well as residents trapped by fighting and enduring siege-like conditions, who detailed families’ desperate struggle to feed their children.

Local residents in Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, claim to have exhausted food supplies as regime checkpoints and bombing campaigns continue to prevent humanitarian convoys and commercial cargo from reaching large parts of the pro-rebel region. “All families have used up their pickled preserves, sugar, and wheat – anything that we had saved for the winter,” Ahmed Asaad said from his home village of al-Madhmiya, which saw heavy fighting between regime and rebel forces on Friday. “People are feeding their children leaves just to stave off hunger pains.”

Eastern Ghouta was the site of a chemical weapons attack on August 21, in which the United States says more than 1,400 people were killed. Al-Assad’s regime has denied responsibility for the attack and has put the blame on the rebels. The brewing humanitarian crisis has led to a leadership shake-up among opposition forces in the Damascus countryside, according to officials in the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA). They admitted to having failed to secure passages to deliver food supplies to the besieged areas. “Hundreds of civilians in Ghouta and elsewhere are dying from hunger,” said Asaad al-Zoubi, an FSA commander based in Amman.

He added that three brigade commanders were replaced last week for their failure to break the regime’s ongoing siege. “We call on the international community to open an aid corridor to the Damascus countryside before we witness a massacre through famine.” There was no official comment from the government in Damascus on the hunger claims. However, Syrian state television on Saturday said regime troops had killed and injured an unspecified number of what it called “terrorists” in a series of attacks against rebel hideouts in Eastern Ghouta.

The Syrian government has frequently portrayed its 30-month conflict with the opposition as a war on terrorism. Thousands of displaced Syrians are stranded along the border with Jordan due to the fighting. Around 70 displaced people have died of hunger-related health complications in the past week, as some 68,000 would-be refugees are stuck in towns and villages along the Jordanian-Syrian border, said FSA fighters. The World Food Programme last week said it was experiencing difficulties reaching the more than 4 million civilians who have been displaced inside Syria because of the conflict. The UN said more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria’s civil war, which began with peaceful anti-government protests in March 2011.

Taylor Luck, "Thousands facing starvation in Syria, activists warn," Business recorder. 2013-09-29.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political parties , Military-Syria , Chemical weapons , Refugees-Syria , Attacks , Protests , Food , Hunger , President Bashar , Damascus , Syria