FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MOADAMIYA, SYRIA. Nov. 26, 2013: Qusai Zakarya, spokesperson for the civilian Local Council of Moadamiya, Syria began a hunger strike to build pressure on the Assad regime to let food and medicine into his town and all besieged areas.
“I declare a hunger strike beginning on Tuesday, November 26, until the siege against the townsfolk of Moadamiya is lifted.
I call on people of conscience everywhere to pressure their governments to act to break Assad’s siege and let humanitarian agencies bring food and medicine into besieged areas. Your support is my only weapon,” said Zakarya.
Qusai Zakarya is a Palestinian Syrian born in Damascus who has lived since infancy in the town of Moadamiya, Syria. Moadamiya has been under siege by Assad forces since October, 2012. Zakarya, a 28-year-old who has advocated tirelessly for his hometown, is now witnessing his townspeople starve to death.
Zakarya cannot bring himself to eat cats, as some desperate residents are doing. “Not a chance. I used to raise three beautiful cats,” he says, before regime bombing destroyed his home on top of them.
Women have kept the community alive. Like country women the world over, Moadamiya women yearly pickle and preserve everything they can. When reserves ran out months ago, townswomen squeezed nourishment out of foliage, adding spices to make broth of boiled leaves more appealing, and banding together to take care of neighbors. Zakarya, who in better times enjoyed kickboxing, soccer, and bodybuilding, has lost 37 pounds.
Assad forces are blockading the city of Homs, Yarmouk Camp in Damascus, and most towns in the eastern Ghouta area, where Modamiya is located. Just southeast of Damascus, the town once full of 52,000 inhabitants has an agriculture based on olive groves. Gleaning olives has helped to keep remaining townsfolk alive, but winter is approaching.
Seven children and four women have died of malnutrition in recent weeks, despite numerous appeals for food by the city’s Local Council. Zakarya, who works under a pseudonym to protect his threatened family elsewhere in Syria, is the Council’s spokesperson. There are 128 councils across Syria, community self-governance structures developed by civilians active in the uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The regime alternately claims either that only Free Syrian Army militias are left in the town, or that local FSA brigades are responsible for holding remaining citizens hostage. In fact 8,000 civilians remain and it is the regime which has sealed off access to the town, Zakarya says, and remaining residents now fear being subjected to what they consider to be forced displacement—with good cause.
The regime reneged on its promises and imprisoned scores of evacuees after four evacuations in October, which Zakarya helped to negotiate. Worse, during the last evacuation, regime army fired on civilians as they tried to reach Red Cross busses. Many townsfolk fear that if regime army breaks through FSA defensive barricades, civilians will be slaughtered in collective punishment similar to massacres perpetrated by the regime in other towns during the uprising. Moadamiya’s local FSA contingents are moderates, not Islamist extremists.
Before the uprising began, Zakarya worked in an urban hotel to support his siblings. There, he met his girlfriend, Dalia. When grassroots protests broke out, the two confessed their love to each other—and Zakarya became a citizen journalist documenting regime atrocities. Then Dalia stopped contacting him, out of fear.
“No cigarette to smoke, no sugar to sweeten my tea, and she is far away… somewhere in Europe, not talking to me because she is scared that one day she might call and find out that I am dead, that I have left her with a broken heart,” reads Zakarya’s diary entry for November 3, 2013.
Zakarya was exposed in the chemical weapons attack on Moadamiya and other Ghouta towns last August, and was nearly left for dead. “If my friend hadn’t started crying and shaking me…after the doctors thought I was dead and placed me with the deceased for 30 minutes, I wouldn’t be here thinking about all this.” Zakarya notes in his diary.
Zakarya’s hunger strike has one goal: Food, now.
Food and medicine are not weapons of war. Support the hunger strike of Qusai Zakarya by demanding safe passage of food and medicine convoys into Moadamiya and other blockaded cities in Syria.
And Dalia, call your boyfriend!
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