(Al-Waʿer, Homs) Five months after the siege on al-Waʿer neighborhood in Homs was broken, as a result of the UN-brokered truce between the regime and the opposition, the regime reestablished its siege completely on the 10th of March 2016.
Almost no food items have been allowed into the neighborhood since that date, although it hosts an estimated population of 75.000-100.000 civilians, most of whom have already been displaced there from the old city of Homs; their residences were in fact destroyed in the battles of the previous years and during the 2-year-long regime siege. That is why activists have launched a campaign to help al-Waʿer.
The campaign was initiated by a hunger strike (named “Dignity Strike”) announced by 13 activists from Homs’ northern countryside on May 10, 2016. The hunger strike is open until aid is allowed to reach the besieged in al-Waʿer.
Abu Faisal, the spokesman for the Homs Civil Assembly stated in a phone call with Syria Untold that “activists in al-Waʿer stood up in solidarity with women and children.” As for the situation in the neighborhood, Abu Faisal commented: “It is very bad, they resumed shelling from the western side, near the military college, and we ran out of milk and canned food. We have witnessed several cases of people fainting in the streets looking for a bite of bread.”
Activist Abu Yaseen from Homs told Syria Untold that “the hunger strike has reached its 10th day without any response from the UN, while the opposition factions have made no attempt to break the siege.”
“The activists hope that aid will be allowed in as soon as possible without any tricks on the regime’s side, such as what happened on May 18, when the regime allowed civilians to reach the nearby bread bakery, only to open fire on them once they gathered there,” continued Abu Yaseen.In addition to the hunger strike, activists have launched two hashtags (#SaveWaer and #Waeristarvingtodeath) on Twitter and Facebook to pressure international organizations to intervene immediately. Civilian collectives in Homs have called on all Syrians to disseminate the two hashtags as widely as possible.
The reason for the truce breach is that the regime is not delivering its commitments on detainees, according to the committee representing the al-Waʿer residents. Part of the truce agreement was that the regime releases 7365 detainees, after the neighbourhood’s negotiation committee handed in a list of their names and the places and dates of their arrests.
As a result, the opposition did not fulfill its commitment to withdraw armed rebels from al-Waʿer. According to the negotiation committee, those who left during the first stage of the agreement (December 2015) were no more than 270 fighters, most of them wounded or Islamic State (IS) affiliates or opposing the agreement. They represent no more than 8% of the fighters inside the neighborhood.
Consequently, the regime and its allies have justified the siege with the permanence of armed factions. Russian media have also reported about opposition snipers targeting civilians in nearby villages on May 10.
According to local activists, all previous examples of siege, the harshest of which was the siege of Madaya in the governorate of Rif Dimashq, are to be considered less painful than what might happen in al-Waʿer. In Madaya 28.000 civilians were besieged for six months (July 2015 - January 2016), after food ran out, and the average starvation death rate reached three casualties a day. While in Al-Waʿer, among the besieged 100.000, there is a high percentage of children and 6.000 of them there are under the age of five.
This is likely to lead to an unprecedented catastrophe if the siege continues for another month. The first sign of that was the death of 7-month-old Lamis Al-ʿIssa on May 14, who reportedly died of malnutrition and because of the shortage of medicines. Her death was announced by several opposition media outlets..In fact, according to local activists, since the agreement was frozen, the regime forbids also the delivery of medicines, fuel and mazut (low-quality fuel oil used for cooking and heating purposes).
Local doctors report that several cases of fetal malformations were registered as a result of pregnant women consuming outdated medication and drug shortages, especially with regards to antibiotics and serums. Around 300 cases of dehydration and anemia have been registered among children due to malnutrition.
The situation is also aggravated by the lack of cardiologists and neurologists, as the regime has reportedly blocked the access of doctors, medical teams and dosages necessary for kidney and cancer diseases, as well as chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiac pathologies. At the moment, there are about 1.500 registered cases of illnesses in need of constant medical attention.