MOADAMIEH, Syria: Displaced residents returned Sunday to their homes near Damascus thanks to a truce in a rebel-held town that Syria’s army besieged more than a year ago.
Among the returnees was a veiled mother of two who said she had come back to Moadamieh, southwest of the capital, for the first time in 14 months.
Speaking near an army checkpoint on the edges of the rebel-controlled area, the 40-year-old, who refused to give her name, said: “We’ve been told everything is calm now, so we’ve decided to return just to see the house.”
Moadamieh was once home to 100,000 people, but fighting, bombing and an army blockade have forced tens of thousands to seek shelter elsewhere.
Some 15,000 people still live in the town and have benefitted from the lull in fighting and the entry of food and other humanitarian supplies since rebels and the regime signed a truce in December.
But without basic services, few of those who fled for other parts of Syria or beyond are willing to go back, even in the long run.
“We will return for good if there’s water and electricity,” said the woman, who was accompanied by her two children.
The AFP journalist was not allowed through the army checkpoint into the rebel area, but saw that most of those trickling in were women, children and elderly people.
At the entrance, a banner read: “Residents of Moadamieh want to banish violence and sectarianism and reinforce national unity.”
A 38-year-old who only identified herself as Maryam said she also wanted to revisit her hometown more than a year and a half after she fled due to bombing.
Accompanied by her four children and father, she appeared visibly exhausted by Syria’s three-year war, but had little hope basic services would return to her town.
“Electricity is still cut off inside,” she said.
In December, rebels and President Bashar Assad’s regime reached the truce for Moadamieh, after the town had been besieged for more than a year by government forces.
The siege led to massive food and medical shortages, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, reported several child deaths as a result of malnutrition.
The AFP journalist Sunday saw several pickup trucks loaded with mattresses, butane gas canisters and boxes of clothes brought to Moadamieh by the visiting families.
At the checkpoint, the correspondent also saw a 15-year-old boy who said he had been sent to collect goods.
Balancing three bags on his head, he said: “I’m taking in this bread for my family.”
A Damascus businessman, Mohammad Said Fattaleh, said he helped to send in food.
“Every day, seven or eight vehicles loaded with food are sent in by the government,” he said.
Two months before the truce was sealed, the Syrian Red Crescent and the authorities evacuated some 3,800 residents of Moadamieh.
The truce was the first of a string of cease-fire agreements between rebels and government representatives securing relative peace in several neighborhoods around Damascus.
Despite some improvement in the humanitarian situation, activists have said the government is blocking goods such as flour that would allow residents to live self-sufficiently.
“We receive some 1,000 packets of bread a day. But we are unable to bring in flour or to open bakeries,” said Abu Malek, an activist in the town reached via the Internet.
The U.N. Security Council last month adopted a resolution calling for humanitarian aid convoys to be allowed access through the country.
Damascus said it would cooperate with the resolution, so long as it respected “state sovereignty.”