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Food for starving Moadamieh barely enough
Young Syrian-Kurdish refugees carry aid in the Darashakran refugee camp, 40 kilometers east of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on December 28, 2013. (AFP PHOTO/SAFIN HAMED)
Young Syrian-Kurdish refugees carry aid in the Darashakran refugee camp, 40 kilometers east of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on December 28, 2013. (AFP PHOTO/SAFIN HAMED)
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BEIRUT: Food supplies that reached starving residents in a besieged suburb of Damascus over the weekend are only enough for around half the population for one day, a media activist in the area warned Sunday.

Moadamieh has been encircled by forces loyal to the government for over a year, trapping around 8,000 civilians and anti-regime fighters. Checkpoints around the town’s perimeter have severed supplies of food and medicine.

Several trucks entered the area with bread, sugar and basic canned food Saturday afternoon. Videos posted on YouTube showed people celebrating as the convoys arrived. However, Moadamieh-based activist Qusai Zakarya said the supplies only provided enough to eat for 3,000-4,000 people for “a maximum of one day.” He said residents would severely ration the canned goods as well as continue to eat plants to survive.

The food convoys were the result of a brief truce reached between government troops and rebels working to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The agreement saw rebels hoisting up a government flag Friday, a gesture of symbolic defeat on the part of the local rebels groups.

The siege of Moadamieh is part of a wider war tactic to pressure residents into driving rebel groups out.

Several towns around Damascus remain under siege.

However, Zakarya was adamant rebels in the area were not close to surrendering to the regime. “Over 90 percent of the rebels in the area are young men from Moadamieh. They are part of the neighborhood, so although everybody is frustrated there will be no surrender,” he said.

The deal with the regime also included that an exchange of weapons for food and more supplies may be allowed through the checkpoints in the coming days if fighters give up some of their armored vehicles.

Residents, however, are wary of the regime’s intentions after soldiers failed to keep to their side of the bargain by trying to storm the town Saturday, several hours before the food convoys arrived. Troops attempted to enter the neighborhood from the north and east, sparking six-hour clashes with rebels, who eventually repelled the advance, according to Zakarya.

“Nobody trusts the regime to provide enough food. They often change their plans and the people here are just frustrated and hungry,” he added.

Several attempts to reach a government spokesman by The Daily Star were unsuccessful.

In a separate plan to provide food relief to needy civilians, the U.N. said Sunday it had completed its first aid airlift from Iraq to Syria.

“The last UNHCR [U.N. refugee agency] cargo flight landed today at Qamishli airport carrying assistance urgently needed by displaced persons,” the UNHCR said in a statement, referring to the location in northeast Syria.

It was the last of a 24-flight airlift by UNHCR, the U.N.’s World Food Program and children’s agency UNICEF, which started on Dec. 15.

This “was the first time the U.N. has used Iraq as a hub to deliver relief items into Syria,” the UNHCR said.

During the airlift, the UNHCR sent almost 300 tons of aid to help over 50,000 people deal with a harsh winter, while WFP sent enough food to feed over 30,000 people for a month and UNICEF provided “health kits, water and sanitation equipment.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 30, 2013, on page 8.
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