May 14, 2014
Since taking control of Homs’s Old City last week, the Syrian government has thrown its weight into a ferocious push for control of al-Waer, Homs’s most populated area and the city’s last rebel holdout. While precise demographic information cannot be verified, al-Waer’s population today is generally estimated at more than 200,000, many of them internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have fled homes elsewhere in Syria and now reside in al-Waer’s schools or other public spaces.
These civilians have faced a partial regime blockade and intermittent bombardment for the past seven months, but the violence has escalated in recent days as the Syrian army launches a fresh offensive for full control of the city that rebels have long known as “the capital of the revolution.”
In an interview with CNN Tuesday, Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad denied that Damascus had deliberately starved Old Homs into submission.
Al-Waer’s population is generally estimated at over 200,000. Photo courtesy of Lens Young Homsi.
“We are not starving anybody–we are trying to reach all those civilians,” Mekdad insisted to CNN’s Fred Pleitgen. “Many convoys carrying humanitarian aid have gone but were turned back by the terrorist groups.”
“Every morning, civilians wake up to the sound of explosions and random gunfire—they are living a catastrophe in every sense of the word,” says an al-Waer-based activist and member of Homs’s Youth Coalition of the Revolution who calls herself Judy al-Homsi. She tells Syria Direct’s Osama Abu Zeid that the regime has moved toward a dual policy of “scorched earth and starvation,” in al-Waer, “killing as many civilians as possible” until al-Waer’s rebels—like those in Old Homs—are forced into submission.
Q: What is the regime’s goal in besieging al-Waer?
I believe the regime is looking to seize Homs in its entirety in order to gain full control over central Syria—and this area’s main artery is Homs—in order to guarantee its supply lines between Damascus and the coast.
Q: Can you tell us how the blockade around al-Waer has impacted the civilian population?
Every morning, civilians wake up to the sound of explosions and random gunfire. They’ve started to get surprised when they wake up and there are no explosions.
They have suffered from a partial regime siege for the past seven months, preventing food, medicine and fuel entering the district while forbidding people from leaving in order to guarantee that it kills as many civilians as possible—either through its policy of starvation, which was largely successful in Old Homs, or through explosives, which haven’t stopped falling until now.
The people of al-Waer are living a catastrophe in every sense of the word; they suffer from shelling, siege and the regime’s policies of scorched earth and starvation.
Q: How is daily life for the women and children, specifically?
They spend most of their time trying to secure their daily nutritional and medical needs because the regime is using a policy of starvation to subjugate al-Waer.
Women try to ensure daily food and some medical assistance; children gather wood or grass for heating since the regime prevents gas and diesel from entering.
There are still schools; humanitarian organizations help us with teaching and put on various events in the district; they do everything possible to guarantee education for children in in private centers and in two rooms in every school, because we use schools to use IDPs who have been displaced from destroyed neighborhoods.
Men are focused on guarding the district from Assad’s gangs and the militias based around al-Waer; every day there’s a possibility the regime and its gangs will storm the district.
For more from Syria Direct, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.