November 13, 2013
The village of Moadimiyet e-Sham, southeast of Damascus, has been blockaded by regime forces for more than 300 days after falling in the rebels’ column.
Last month, after videos surfaced online of residents eating leaves and grass due to ongoing starvation, the International Red Crescent oversaw three evacuations of 4,000 of the city’s starving citizens with the permission of the regime.
As the Syrian National Coalition tentatively agrees to attend Geneva II, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces push advances outside Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs. As bombardments rain on what is left of Moadimiyet daily, Syria Direct’s Abdulrahman al-Masri checked in on Wednesday with Moadimiyet Media Center spokesman Qusai Zakarya, who talks about why, despite continued starvation and bombardment, he retains some faith in a political solution.
What is happening in Moadimiyet today?
I don’t know if you can hear the sounds of the shelling right now as we speak. We’ve been under a lot of shelling from the 4th Division artillery and the Mezzeh military airport. There have been constant attempts to invade the town. We still have more than 8,000 civilians inside Moadimiyet and most refuse to leave. They want food and aid to be able to enter the town, and they don’t want to leave.
We have a new enemy right now: the cold. We don’t have anything to use for heat except some tree branches. We take a huge risk to gather it in the woods, as the area is totally exposed to 4th Division artillery. Anything that moves in there, they see it and bomb it within seconds.
What about the people who have been evacuated? What’s been their fate? Are they safe?
We have very accurate information that more than 500 civilians from the most recent evacuation have been arrested in the Mezzeh military airport, and eight civilians have been executed there. Many are missing.
We haven’t managed to contact most of the people who have been evacuated from Moadimiyet, because we don’t have enough communication equipment to reach such a huge number.
In Qudsayya [a southern Damascus suburb where evacuees are being housed], they’ve made one of the residences a sort of prison. Even the women and children are interrogated.
To be honest with you, we knew all of this would happen. The people who left knew they might face such a dark destiny. They have put us in a very bad situation. We cannot keep on staying here while people are starving to death.
I will say it over and over again. Starving to death is much worse than being killed any other way, even by Sarin.
[noise of shelling]
You’re hearing the bombardment.
Given that people are living under horrible conditions, tell me what you think about the Geneva conference?
Well, I will be crystal clear about this. The whole world is standing with the Assad regime, with this fascist man. He has killed more than 200,000 civilians, raped more than 50,000 women, killed more than 25,000 children and displaced 11 million people inside and outside Syria, and gassed 1,5000 civilians August 21st, 2013 with Sarin gas.
Instead of taking him to The Hague, they are talking about taking him to Geneva. Inside of Syria, on the ground, we know that Bashar al-Assad is a war criminal. We will keep on fighting until we take him to international justice.
Do you think the Geneva conference or a political solution can cease the daily killing of people?
If pre-conditions are set - Bashar al-Assad giving up his role as president of Syria, releasing all his prisoners, delivering food and aid to besieged towns inside Syria, and ceasing the shelling and bombardment - I think this might, might be a good chance to stop the fighting across Syria.
We have been asking Assad to step down since day one.
Do you believe in the Coalition’s leaders? They’ve set some conditions. Will they help the people?
Believe it or not, I try to be positive about what is happening in the Syrian revolution, especially in these dark days. I’m ready to ask myself, in my mind, to have some faith in Jarba and the Etilaf [the Coalition].
If they see reason in their mind to go to Geneva without those conditions I previously noted, they won’t have the respect and trust of the Syrian people, and they also will not have a real chance to stop the fighting.
If you read about the military forces he is using to conquer rebel towns, you will see most or all of his forces are from Hezbollah or Liwa al Abbas, Lebanese or Iraqi troops. That is a clear signal he is running out of troops.
Besides Jarba and other Coalition leaders, do you believe in the internal opposition leaders tolerated by the Assad regime, like Hassan Abdel-Athim?
These men are not even a tiny piece of the Syrian revolution. They are just Assad’s mercenaries and intelligence agents dressing up as the Syrian opposition.