May 14, 2014
By Kristen Gillespie and Osama Abu Zeid
AMMAN: The Syrian military continued its campaign to re-capture the last rebel-held district in Homs on Thursday, reportedly shelling al-Waer as regime forces maintained tight control of checkpoints encircling it.
“The regime is using a policy of starvation to subjugate al-Waer,” an activist calling herself Judy al-Homsi told Syria Direct, echoing opposition charges that the government is not allowing food, fuel or medicine into al-Waer nor letting anyone leave.
“Civilians wake up to the sounds of explosions and random gunfire,” said al-Homsi, an al-Waer-based member of Homs’s Youth Coalition of the Revolution. Provisions have not entered al-Waer for more than a week, activists say, when the siege began following a truce returning the neearby 13 districts of Old Homs to government control.
The Jazeerat al-Sabaa district of al-Waer this week. Photo courtesy of the Al-Waer News Network.
The estimated 300,000 inhabitants of the nine districts, or “islands” in Arabic, that make up al-Waer have endured an ongoing humanitarian crisis since a partial government blockade was imposed on the district seven months ago, restricting entry and exit.
While not specifically referencing al-Waer, Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad denied in an interview with CNN Tuesday that Damascus had used starvation via a total blockade that was imposed on Old Homs in June 2012 in order to win it back.
“We are not starving anybody, we are trying to reach all those civilians,” Mekdad told CNN’s Fred Pleitgen. “Many convoys carrying humanitarian aid have gone but were turned back by the terrorist groups.”
Once a sparsely populated district before the war, al-Waer has become in recent months home to at least tens of thousands of internally displaced Syrians.
Only one regime-controlled bakery remains operational in al-Waer, located next to the military college in the northeast. A lack of medicine, especially antibiotics and disinfectant, has contributed to a rapidly deterioating health situation and critically affected those with chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Nevertheless, some schools remain open with the aid of humanitarian organizations, with schools doubling as shelters for internally displaced Syrians.
“We set aside two rooms in every school for education because schools are for IDPs from destroyed neighborhoods,” said Judy al-Homsi.
Since the truce was signed with rebels last week, regime forces have encircled al-Waer at the following points: the Military College and New Homs Clinic in the northeast, a military clinic and al-Bir Clinic in the southeast, and the 9th and 8th districts, loyal to the regime, and populated by a Shiite majority.
The battles are currently concentrated in the seventh and eighth “islands” of al-Waer, and activists say there is no talk of a ceasefire.
“The regime can’t take al-Waer by a ground assault, but it can shell any area or any building that it wants,” said Hassan Abu a-Zain, a spokesman for the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth in Homs, now based in al-Waer.
The density of the population confined to al-Waer means that “if shelling occurred similar to that of Old Homs, there would be 10 times more dead,” Abu a-Zain said.
Daniel Wilkofsky contributed reporting.
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