Syrians face starvation as bombings continue

Friday 15/01/2016
Sieges are aimed at turning population against opposition

BEIRUT - Even as UN envoys strug­gle to end the catastrophic Syria war, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime wages a cruel war against its own people, using starvation sieges and Russian air strikes, which have killed hundreds of men, wom­en and children in recent weeks.

A relief convoy of 44 trucks car­rying food and medicine reached the 20,000 people of Madaya on the outskirts of Damascus on January 11th, where 23 inhabitants, six of them children, had starved to death in recent weeks during a seven-month siege.

Madaya is one of several districts around the Syrian capital held by rebel forces and considered strate­gically important because of their proximity to Assad’s seat of power. All have reported deaths from star­vation in sieges aimed at turning the population against the opposition.

The emaciated residents of Ma­daya, including skeletal children, told relief officials they had been re­duced to eating leaves and grass and killing their pets for food.

“You don’t see a child whose eyes aren’t sunken and staring from hun­ger,” lamented Ebrahem Abass, a former Syrian Army sergeant who defected.

The United Nations estimates that 400,000 Syrians are under siege around Damascus and in the north.

Sieges have been employed throughout history and by all sides in this conflict but Assad’s regime has made cutting off food, water and electricity one of its most gro­tesque strategies, along with chemi­cal weapons, barrels bombs and in­discriminate bombardment.

Russian warplanes bombed a school in Ain Jara in Aleppo prov­ince in the north on January 11th, killing 25 people, including an en­tire class of 14 students and their teacher, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that monitors the war.

Just two days before, 21 civilians were killed when Russian jets fired four missiles into a judicial complex run by the rebel al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing, in Maarat al-Numan in north-western Idlib province. The Observatory said 29 militants and seven detainees were also killed.

Russia’s air strikes are often in­discriminate as they employ “dumb bombs” rather than the precision-guided munitions used by the Unit­ed States and its allies to attack anti- Assad rebels.

The Observatory reported that Russian air strikes — 5,000 since September 30th — have killed more than 2,300 people, including 800 ci­vilians, 180 of them children.

Moscow dismisses the allegations as “absurd”. But Philip Luther of Amnesty International said the Rus­sians “have directly attacked civil­ians… by striking residential areas with no evident military target and even medical facilities”.