In an open letter to the international community delivered through the Syrian Coalition, the Western-backed opposition in exile, the people of Moadamiyya say they are living in “deplorable” conditions. “We can only pray for the wounded as we do not have access to medicine,” they write.
Moadamiyya has been sealed off from outside aid for months, surrounded by government forces and fighting that makes roads impassible.
The siege of Moadamiyya has also meant that aid workers have been unable to deliver food and medical supplies to the civilians trapped there. The U.N. has called for a cease-fire along with urgent aid for Moadamiyaa; Valerie Amos, the U.N.’s under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, called on all sides of the conflict to pause their fighting in order to allow safe passage out for civilians trapped inside the town.
Moadamiyya is in a strategically important area along a main highway leading to Damascus. The town was one of the areas hit during the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack, and now, after months of shelling and siege, regime troops have been unable to wrest Moadamiyya from rebel control.
Qusai Zakarya is an opposition spokesperson inside Moadamiyya. Below, he tells Syria Deeply about the conditions facing the 10,000 civilians he says are still trapped inside.
Syria Deeply: What is the situation on the ground in Moadamiyya?
Qusai Zakarya: What we’ve been through in this small town is very far from reality. We’ve been struck with land missiles, fighter [jets], sarin gas, cannons [and] tanks.
It’s like a big prison, but a prison always under fire, under shelling, under sarin and the worst, under hunger.
Three months ago all the home supplies in Moadamiyya [ran] out. Because Moadamiyya is a country town, it’s usual for people to keep some home supplies like rice. But all the supplies [ran] out and all the people for the last three months have been eating only [grape vine] leaves and olives.
Within the past month we lost 11 kids and women from malnutrition. We have over 100 kids with malnutrition, though some of them managed to get out within the past few days.
SD: Last weekend a temporary cease-fire was negotiated between government and opposition forces. It allowed the Red Cross to evacuate civilians from Moadamiyya, How did that come about?
QZ: After more than six months of talking with the ICRC, the U.N., everyone just to get some food and aid to the town. None of the attempts succeeded because they were always [stymied] by the government. Finally, the pressure (especially the media pressure) on the Assad government [brought it about].
SD: What have you had to eat today?
QZ: Today, like yesterday, just some olives. We made a small kind of salad using tree leaves. Just put some salt and pepper on it, and just ate it. I don’t know for how long we can keep on doing that. I don’t mind if I stay like this forever if I know that at least the women and children can eat. I’m a man, I can handle myself.
Right now, we are living in somewhere far from any reality that you know or you have heard about. There’s no way to describe the kind of world that we are living in. It’s a crazy world.
SD: Are you still in negotiations with the Syrian government to evacuate more civilians?
QZ: It’s a very complicated situation, either you choose to just let the people starve to death, or you try to do something about it. All the world, literally, all the world, has failed to [deliver] food and medicine.
There is a group called the Friends of Syria, [whose members are from] over 100 countries [including] the United States and France and Britain. They have failed to [deliver] food and medicine.
They were promising for years that we would get weapons, and we haven’t gotten anything. So we forgot about the weapons. But at least we thought they would have some dignity, some humanity to [deliver] some food and medicine. When they wanted the weapons inspectors teams to come in, they forced Assad to let them in. So when they want something to be done, they can [indeed] force him to do what they want.