More than 100 residents and a handful of rebel fighters left Qudsiya, 10km north Damascus, for Idlib province on Monday, the first sign of acquiescence to a regime demand that all rebel fighters lay down their arms or else leave for opposition-controlled Idlib province in order to lift the blockade.
A sense of hunger and defeat now prevails over the residents of the FSA-run city, which has been subject to four different regime blockades in the past two years.
Despite the gesture, the regime maintained the blockade and issued additional, undisclosed demands resulting in Monday’s withdrawal.
Muhammed al-Assad, a member of the Local Coordination Committee activist network in Qudsiya, told Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani that the regime’s starvation strategy is working.
“The people’s only concern is getting flour, food and medicine.”
Q: There have been blockades and then reconciliations before in Qudsiya. How is this one different?
This is the fourth blockade imposed on the city, and it is currently in its fifth month. Every blockade ends with a temporary reconciliation agreement, but this is the first time the agreement has included transporting a number of civilians as well as fighters from the town. Approximately 135 people were moved out, the majority of them civilians, along with a small number of rebel fighters. All this was done under the supervision of the Red Crescent and the United Nations.
Q: What about the regime soldiers who remain in the city?
One of the regime’s conditions for ending the blockade was that rebel fighters who refused to give up their guns withdraw to Idlib. This agreement is supposed to happen in phases. Most fighters have stayed inside the city. So up until this point, the regime has not ended its blockade because not all fighters have left.
Q: How do residents feel in general about the mediation?
The people’s only concern is getting flour, food and medicine. The regime knows that the rebels’ weak point is the civilians, so it exploits their presence to pressure the rebels. The regime relies on a starvation strategy to make the people submit. Most people don’t want their sons to leave the city, but those who were displaced there are requesting to leave because of their hunger. They feel defeated.
Q: Do you expect that the blockade will be lifted?
We’re accustomed to the fact that the regime can’t be trusted. However, I think the rebels will agree to the regime’s conditions completely in order to end the starvation of their people. They also want to show that it is the regime, not the rebels, who are the cause of the blockade.