Militant siege chokes Syria’s Deir Ezzor
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