Mil­i­tant siege chokes Syria’s Deir Ezzor

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

DEIR EZZOR, Syria:

In the Syr­ian city of Deir Ezzor, a two-year siege by the Is­lamic State group has forced taxi driver Mo­hammed Al-Obeid to find a new job and turned its park into a ceme­tery. In­stead of fer­ry­ing cus­tomers around the eastern city with its fuel short­ages, he now buys old fur­ni­ture and breaks it up for re­sale as fire­wood for cook­ing and heat­ing. “Peo­ple sell me house­hold fur­ni­ture - beds and wardrobes - and other wooden ob­jects so they can use the money to buy food,” Obeid said in the Jura district where he sells the wood out­side his house.

IS mil­i­tants seized parts of Deir Ezzor in 2014 af­ter a light­ning ad­vance across large ar­eas of Syria and neigh­bor­ing Iraq. In Jan 2015, they im­posed a chok­ing siege on the regime-held west of the city, which the UN says is home to around a third of the city’s pre-war pop­u­la­tion of 300,000. Nearly one mil­lion peo­ple in Syria are liv­ing un­der siege, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions, mostly in ar­eas sur­rounded by gov­ern­ment forces.

Deir Ezzor is the only place where IS has im­posed a siege on a pocket of regime-held ter­ri­tory. With no way in or out ex­cept by mil­i­tary he­li­copter, civil­ians in the city are trapped and have scarce sup­plies of food and fuel. The World Food Pro­gramme has air­dropped aid to the city - the only be­sieged part of the country to re­ceive such as­sis­tance. The regime’s key ally Rus­sia has also de­liv­ered aid by air.

Queu­ing for ra­tions

But in the mar­ket on Al-Wadi street, there’s still lit­tle on of­fer to weary, hun­gry res­i­dents. Rocket and spinach aside, few veg­eta­bles are avail­able among the cig­a­rettes, chick­ens and canned foods. And what is avail­able is of­ten be­yond the means of lo­cal res­i­dents, with a kilo of fly-rid­den meat on sale for 15,000 Syr­ian pounds ($30). “In two years I haven’t eaten meat, fruit or bis­cuits be­cause of the siege,” said 12-year-old Mustafa Al-Musa. “I miss all those foods.”

The gov­ern­ment now pro­vides free bread to needy res­i­dents, dis­tribut­ing it through the Syr­ian Red Cres­cent so­ci­ety which ex­pects to hand out 17,000 batches by the end of Novem­ber. Out­side a nearby pub­lic bak­ery, dozens of lo­cals gath­ered to wait for ra­tions. “We stand here for hours wait­ing for a bag of bread to keep us alive,” said Um Khaled, a re­tired gov­ern­ment em­ployee in her six­ties. “The siege means we never have enough, and we suf­fer for hours in the cold and the heat to get a few loaves.” Res­i­dents have also been forced to dig wells for water, be­cause fuel short­ages make it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to power pumps. —AFP

DEIR EZZOR: Syr­ian men sell wood in this Syr­ian city on Nov 12, 2016. —AFP

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