Articles and Interviews

Time Article: New Concerns About Access For Aid Groups In Syria As Winter Bites


According to the UN, the Syrian Government is hindering humanitarian access. But there is little that can be done.

Hunger brings desperation, so when a photo of three men crouched over the corpse of a lion taken from a Damascus area zoo started making the rounds on social media earlier this week, Syria-watchers immediately assumed the worst. After all, Syrian Muslim clerics had recently issued a religious ruling permitting the consumption of cats and donkeys, normally forbidden, in cases of acute starvation.  So the leap from cats to lions didn’t seem all that improbable. “As Starvation Mounts Rebels Slaughter Lion Instead of Cats,” read the headline on one Syrian news website Wednesday. [Read more…]

CBS Article: Activists accuse Assad regime of starving children

By Clarissa Ward

BEKA’A VALLEY, Lebanon — It is one of the ugliest weapons being used in Syria’s civil war — and children are most at risk. Activists accuse the Syrian government of starving its own people. Neighborhoods like Muadamiya — a rebel stronghold on the outskirts of Damascus — are surrounded by government troops. Residents told us Syrian soldiers are blocking the delivery of all food and medicine. Graffiti warns people to kneel to President Assad or starve. [Read more…]

Interview with Qusai Zakarya by Fouad Roueiha

My strike is intended as a civil, non-violent weapon with which I will try to turn the spotlight on the ignoble use of hunger as a weapon of war, a weapon more ignoble than chemical weapons. 

using starvation of the population as a weapon

I started a hunger strike to try to break the siege of Moadamiya, a suburb of Damascus, as well as in the other Syrian towns and villages that are in the same situation because of the insane tactics based on starving the population that the regime had begun a few months ago. Now in most of the besieged areas there is an almost complete or even complete lack of food, in Moadamiya alone, eleven persons have already starved to death, including women and children, another ten were killed this way in other parts of Syria due to the monstrous and fascist siege imposed by the Bashar al Assad forces. In these areas access is denied to any type of aid. My strike is intended as a civil, non-violent weapon with which I will try to turn the spotlight on the ignoble use of hunger as a weapon of war, a weapon more ignoble than chemical weapons. On the checkpoints of the regime there have appeared some signs saying “Kneel or die of starvation” (in Arabic this phrase rhymes – translator’s note). The world needs to know these facts are unacceptable, that this should not be allowed to happen in the 21st century, we are no longer in the Middle Ages. Here we die while food, water and medicines are five minutes away from us behind the check points of Bashar al Assad. Everyone should know this. I hope that people of good will throughout the world stand by us and make our voices theirs to put pressure on their governments so that they intervene right away so that Bashar al-Assad immediately allows the entrance of aid convoys. When the suburbs of Moadamiya and Eastern Ghouta were attacked with chemical weapons, August 21, the United Nations and European countries have forced the regime to bring an investigative mission despite Assad knowing that the mission would collect evidence of what happened. The difference between what is happening now and what happened with chemical weapons is in the attention of Western countries, who are more interested in those weapons than about the fate of millions of Syrian civilians. In this way, they showed that guiding their actions is not the humanitarian spirit, but their interests and their agenda and therefore they do not hesitate to contradict themselves and make all their slogans on human rights or democracy a sham.

Q: It is evident that the use of hunger as a weapon can never be justified, but can you explain who is affected by this practice, are they perhaps militias or terrorists locked up in 11 areas of the country under siege?

To starve an enemy is a proven military tactic. Already during the First World War, some states had besieged the cities that they could not control, leaving only one way out and calling it a “humanitarian corridor” when in fact it was and is a way to impose that the population thinks only of escape. The Syrian regime, with the help of Russia, is using this dirty weapon that strikes mainly civilians. It affects women, children, the elderly, and also all that part of the population that refuses any military involvement. The Free Army fighters have the physical strength and the will to resist more than most others the effects of this siege and still continue to fight. Furthermore, their commitment requires them to risk their lives on a daily basis, their choice to defend the people from the regime’s army, the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi militia is in itself an acceptance of the risk of dying. So to be affected are mostly civilians whose only fault is that they continue to say no to the Assad regime.

Q: To confirm the use of hunger as a weapon of war, there are also reports of systematic attacks and of fires being set to agricultural land areas outside the control of the regime, we can confirm this information?

Yes, the regime is burning fields and uprooting trees, it is attacking the stores of grain and seeds, any source of food that you can find in the liberated areas is particularly targeted, in a scientific manner. Here at Moadamiya the main resource we have left are the olive groves, we also eat the leaves of the trees as well as herbs such as valerian and mint. The fields and olive groves are attacked daily by the artillery of the Fourth Brigade, that one led by Maher al-Assad (brother of Bashar), with the clear goal of eliminating the last hope of survival here, where we have been under siege now for more a year. In many other areas of the country the same technique is used to maximise the damage to the civilian populations of the liberated areas of the country.

Q: You have said that the regime does not allow the passage of humanitarian aid, what are the counter-revolutionaries’ moves in that regard?

There are individuals and organisations that have collected aid, but at the moment we are unable to let them in. We are trying to have them stored in the warehouses near Moadamiya, in the hope that you it will be possible to open a corridor by means of international pressure. In this case, we are ready to transfer a good amount of food, medicine and aid to deal with the winter season. The winter has become for us a new enemy that every year we try to fight with blunt weapons, since we do not have electricity or fuel to heat ourselves. In short, there is a quantity of aid already there and waiting, now we hope that the international public opinion helps us, amplifying our request to stop the siege, before concentrating on other humanitarian aid that we would not know how to get where there is the most need for it. It’s not correct to be talking about the spread of starvation in Syria, but instead it must be known that the regime is starving us in a wilful and premeditated manner. The international community must speak out against the use of hunger as a weapon by Bashar al-Assad, using every kind of pressure possible.

Q: You are in Moadamiya, so presumably you have already been suffering from hunger before starting this protest. How do you think you can go ahead with his hunger strike, in which case it would you break it?

In the last four months, that is since food has pretty much ended here in Moadamiya, I have already lost more than 17 kilos. We can say that in reality I have been on a forced hunger strike for four months, the novelty is in the fact that now I’m doing it in an organised and voluntary way. Someone has to sacrifice, try to do something before this tragedy will grow even greater and hit everyone. In Moadamiya and in besieged areas just look around, you will see the signs of malnutrition on the bodies and faces of all the people, it is obvious. Someone has to do something, you have to raise your voice. I will not stop until I see food enter Moadamiya and other besieged areas across Syria.

(Original in Arabic) Translated in Italian by Fouad Roueiha, English translation by Mary Rizzo

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