Syr­i­ans dis­placed near cap­i­tal sur­mount years of de­pri­va­tion

Regime forces had laid siege to Eastern Ghouta since 2013, en­forc­ing their tac­tics of starve-to-con­quer

Gulf News - - Middle East -

Thou­sands of Syr­i­ans dis­placed by the bat­tle for the once-lush sub­urbs of Da­m­as­cus now find them­selves in a crowded set­tle­ment, where for the first time in re­cent mem­ory they have enough to eat.

The rows of pre-fab­ri­cated shel­ters are home to some 18,000 peo­ple dis­placed by the of­fen­sive that drove rebels out of Eastern Ghouta. On Satur­day, the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment an­nounced the cap­ture of Douma, the last rebel hold­out in Eastern Ghouta and the site of an al­leged chem­i­cal at­tack that prompted a Western mis­sile strike.

Gov­ern­ment forces had laid siege to eastern Ghouta since 2013, and late last year they tight­ened the noose, caus­ing food prices to soar in the farm­ing re­gion that once served as a bread­bas­ket for the cap­i­tal.

Barely sur­viv­ing

Alia Bakkar sold all her be­long­ings so that she and her three chil­dren could sur­vive. The 35-year-old widow de­scribed how they used to walk by restau­rants in their town of Kfar Batna, smelling grilled chicken and beef with­out be­ing able to af­ford it. Af­ter sell­ing all their be­long­ings and run­ning out of money, the fam­ily sur­vived on small amounts of bar­ley bread.

“I sold my wed­ding ring for 10,000 pounds ($20, Dh73) in or­der to feed my chil­dren,” she said.

They are now liv­ing with other dis­placed peo­ple in the cramped set­tle­ment in Horjelli, where there are no paved roads and sewage pours into a canal.

The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, a Bri­tain-based group that closely mon­i­tors the con­flict, says 177,000 peo­ple have fled Eastern Ghouta since Fe­bru­ary, with around 120,000 go­ing to gov­ern­ment-held ar­eas and the rest — in­clud­ing about 12,000 fight­ers — re­lo­cat­ing to the north­ern rebel-held Idlib prov­ince.

Many had their houses de­stroyed dur­ing the mas­sive gov­ern­ment of­fen­sive in Fe­bru­ary and March, when Syr­ian and Rus­sian war­planes pounded the towns of eastern Ghouta, forc­ing res­i­dents to shel­ter un­der­ground.

Packed like sardines

Now the dis­placed are pack­ing into hous­ing units in which more than 20 peo­ple share two rooms, a bath­room and a kitchen.

Many are ill. More than a dozen peo­ple were lined up last week await­ing treat­ment at an aid sta­tion set up by the Syr­ian Arab Red Cres­cent. Paramedics say they treat be­tween 800 and 1,000 pa­tients a day, mainly for fever and di­ar­rhoea.

A col­lec­tive kitchen cooks up three tonnes of food ev­ery day, dis­tribut­ing it to res­i­dents who line up with their own pots. On a re­cent day they re­ceived rice and lentils cooked in gravy as well as french fries, toma­toes and cu­cum­bers.

AP

Dis­placed res­i­dents of Eastern Ghouta wait to re­ceive food from the main kitchen at a shel­ter for the dis­placed in Horjelli in the Da­m­as­cus coun­try­side on Fri­day.

AP

A girl from Eastern Ghouta at a shel­ter for the dis­placed in Horjelli on Fri­day.

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