Civilians trapped in the besieged West Ghouta town of Moadamiyyat Ash Sham — the site of one of the August 21 chemical weapons attacks — say that their situation is desperate and they do not know how they will survive the winter.
Moadamiyyat Ash Sham has been under almost total siege since November 25, 2012. Forces loyal to President Assad closed checkpoints leading to the town after insurgents took Darayya to the north.
Around 12,000 civilians remain out of an original population of around 32,000. As well as an acute shortage of food and medicines, the town is suffering from a serious water shortage after regime forces blocked the supply.
On Wednesday, EA spoke via Skype with Qusai Zakarya, a translator who accompanied the UN chemical weapons team on its mission to Moadamiyyat Ash Sham, and who is now inside the town.
Zakarya said the town’s food supplies had run out three months ago, and the regime has prevented aid agencies from bringing in emergency food and medical supplies, stopping aid trucks at the checkpoints that surround the town.
“There is no possibility for humanitarian aid,” Zakarya said. “Assad refused it over and over. A large shipment of aid from the UN tried to enter Moadamiyyat Ash Sham but a military checkpoint stopped it. [Assad’s] troops even fired into the air.”
International aid agencies like the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) say they have had food supplies confiscated by regime forces, making it difficult if not impossible to get shipments through. A WFP spokeswoman told EA earlier this week that on 26 September, a regime military checkpoint in Jisr Al Hamaa and Zabadani in Rural Damascus confiscated food rations intended for civilians.
As a result, Zakarya said, nine children in Moadamiyyat Ash Sham have died of malnutrition recently.
The regime checkpoints that choke Moadamiyyat Ash Sham are so determined not to let anyone in or out of the city, Zakarya adds, that they even fired at a car belonging to the UN chemical weapons inspection team, which visited the town last month.
As well as preventing aid agencies from delivering vital food aid, the 11-month regime siege has also banned medical supplies from reaching Moadamiyyat Ash Sham. With casualties from almost continual regime bombardments, the local makeshift field hospital has run out of supplies, Zakarya explains.
“We have people injured who need medical care that we cannot provide. We have no medicine, no antibiotics, no medical care. We have no bandages. We are using bedsheets,” he said.
Because Moadamiyyat Ash Sham’s citizens cannot take sick relatives to hospital for treatment — the regime will not allow injured and sick people to leave the town — Zakarya says that families are simply doing their best to care for the sick at home.
“Families keep people close…there’s no hospitals so they feel that their loved ones might as well pass way with their families close,” he adds.
Video — A Baby Girl Dies Of Starvation In Moadamiyyat Ash Sham
While the humanitarian situation has gone from bad to desperate, Zakarya says the regime continues to launch fierce artillery, air and sniper fire on the town on a daily basis.
That bombardment intensified immediately after the August 21 chemical weapons attacks, he adds, and has not let up since.
“Bashar used sarin gas against Moadamiyyat Ash Sham, the only place in West Ghouta [where the attacks occurred — the rest were in East Ghouta]. Then he launched 2,000 strikes and missiles against us. It was like World War II all over again,” Zakarya remembers.
Since August 21, and as the world focuses on Assad’s promise to hand over his chemical weapons supplies to international control, Assad’s forces have bombed Moadamiyyat Ash Sham with conventional weapons every day.
Zakarya explains that the regime’s 4th Armored Division is trying to invade and overrun Moadamiyyat Ash Sham, and says that the Syrian Arab Army is assisted by Iranian snipers.
Assad is using his extensive airpower — likely supplied with munitions from Russia — to bomb Moadamiyyat Ash Sham.
“There were MiG [warplane] raids yesterday. Three raids. Assad used a new kind of missile, something like an F16 missile,” Zakarya says.
Meanwhile, because of the siege, the Free Syrian Army forces fighting in Moadamiyyat Ash Sham are unable to get fresh supplies of weapons and ammunition.
“The Free Syrian Army is using ammo that it got months ago, or what they can capture from the regime during fighting,” Zakarya adds.
Why is the regime focussing so much firepower against Moadamiyyat Ash Sham?
According to Zakarya, one main reason is that Moadamiyyat Ash Sham was one of the first towns that started to demonstrate against the Assad regime over two years ago.
The opposition-held town is also a very strategic location for both the regime and the insurgents, because it is surrounded by key regime military strongholds. It is right next to the Mezzeh Military Airport, the site of fierce fighting between regime and insurgent fighters, and just south of the 4th Armored Division base, Sumarieh residences, and the police housing.
Video — Civilian Homes Destroyed By Regime Bombing
As the situation worsens and winter approaches, Zakarya says that Moadamiyyat Ash Sham’s residents feel abandoned by the US and the international community, and cannot understand why they have been left to die.
“The Americans are saying that Bashar can do whatever he likes. We’re seeing MiG firepower against us like never before. (US Secretary of State John) Kerry is saying how pleased he is with Bashar over his chemical weapons,” Zakarya says.
Civilians in Moadamiyyat Ash Sham, including 7,000 women and children, fear that if the Free Syrian Army cannot hold off Assad’s forces from entering the town, there will be another mass killing.
“We think if Bashar’s forces enter here, then they will not leave anyone alive,” Zakarya says. “It’s like the whole world is taking pleasure in watching us die. Why? We just want freedom, just like you, just like the people in Europe and in America.”
VIDEO — Shelling On Thursday Morning
Street scene in Moadamiyyat Ash Sham
(Photo credits — Lens Young Moadamani)