BEIRUT: Residents of a besieged rebel-held suburb of Damascus issued an urgent plea Monday for the international community to save them from starvation and constant bombardment after efforts to evacuate civilians from the area collapsed this week.
The humanitarian situation in Moadamieh, west of the capital, has been deteriorating for months as troops loyal to President Bashar Assad have blocked food and supplies from entering, activists say. Around 3,000 residents of the suburb were able to flee the area late last month during a rare, temporary cease-fire.
Aid agencies say Syrians across the country face difficulties getting food, but hunger in the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus, largely surrounded by government territory, is particularly acute.
In an open letter circulated by the main Western-backed opposition group, Moadamieh residents pleaded with the international community for help.
“Save us from death. Save us from the hell of Assad’s killing machine,” the letter said. “For nearly one year, the city of Moadamieh has been under siege with no access to food, electricity, medicine, communications, and fuel.”
“We have been hit by rockets, artillery shells, napalm, white phosphorous, and chemical weapons,” it said.
The writers, who did not give their names, said they had managed to find enough power to run a computer and connect to the Internet to send the letter.
The Syrian National Coalition, the main umbrella group for the opposition, called on international organizations to establish a humanitarian corridor to allow food into the area. On Saturday, the United Nation’s humanitarian chief Valerie Amos called for an “immediate pause” in clashes to allow civilians to leave.
Juliette Touma, Syria spokeswoman for the United Nations Children’s Fund, said their aid teams had been denied access several times to Moadamieh.
“We know that there are children that are trapped in Moadamieh. Exactly how many children, we don’t know,” she said. “Moadamieh is one part of a bigger story.”
Touma said it was one of many areas that are “sealed off” to civilian movement by the warring parties.
A spokesman for the Moadamieh council, Qusai Zakaria, confirmed that local residents had sent the letter to the Coalition asking for help.
“We are heading toward a definite destiny: starvation,” he said via Skype, with the clap of shelling and the thumping of a helicopter audible in the background. “Please, we are begging you [international organizations] to enter and distribute food. Residents are living on boiled grape leaves and olives,” he added.
Activists say that for months, Syrian troops at checkpoints surrounding the battered suburb west of Damascus have not allowed food or medical supplies to enter. The siege is aimed at squeezing out rebels from the area, they say. It is not certain how many civilians remain, but activists estimate around 12,000.
Activists from the Moadamieh Media Center reported that six people died of starvation in September: two women and four children.
In a reprieve for some, the Syrian Red Cross and Red Crescent helped evacuate some 3,000 civilians from Moadamieh earlier this month during a rare cease-fire coordinated by a controversial pro-government Catholic nun, Mother Agnes Mariam al-Salib, who has lived in Syria for decades, said two activists.
Efforts to evacuate more civilians this week failed after clashes forced hundreds of women and children who had gathered at a checkpoint on the neighborhood’s edge to scatter.
Another Moadamieh activist, Wissam al-Ahmad, said international pressure had allowed chemical weapons inspectors to move freely through the country. He said the same pressure would force the Syrian regime to feed blockaded civilians.
The dire situation in Moadamieh is part of the broader humanitarian crisis triggered by Syria’s civil war. The conflict, which began with largely peaceful protests in March 2011, escalated into a civil war that has now claimed the lives of more than 100,000.