AID UPDATE: Four encircled Damascus suburbs receive some aid, remain dependent on regime

Four regime-blockaded towns in Outer Damascus received some form of aid or assistance over the past week.  

Qudsaya and al-Hameh

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent and United Nations delivered dozens of trucks of humanitarian aid to neighboring Qudsaya and al-Hameh in northwest Outer Damascus on Sunday as part of an ongoing reconciliation process between the Syrian government and the towns.

“Of the aid convoy’s 54 trucks carrying aid, 52 entered Qudsaya” on Sunday, while two entered neighboring al-Hameh, activist Sharif al-Futouh told Syria Direct on Monday from al-Hameh. The aid included medicine, nutritional supplements, school supplies and 5,000 food parcels, he added.

The lopsided aid deliveries were reportedly due to Qudsaya taking stronger steps towards a permanent truce with the regime than al-Hameh, its neighbor to the south, pro-opposition Step News reported on Sunday.

An international aid convoy reached Outer Damascus’s Qudsaya on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Qudsaya Media Team.

The Syrian Ministry of National Reconciliation reported that 57 vehicles entered the Qudsaya area on Sunday, without mentioning how many entered al-Hameh specifically.

Sunday’s aid delivery came four days after Ali Haidar, the regime’s Minister of National Reconciliation, visited Qudsaya.

“The regime photographed Ali Haidar’s visit and the aid delivery,” al-Futouh said, “to convince its supporters and international organizations that the towns are under its control and that it brought in aid. In other words, that it is doing its duty.”

Al-Hameh aid activist al-Futouh reads the aid deliveries as a “move to lessen the international pressure on it and show good faith in these two areas so that it can continue its massacres in other areas.”

Regime forces blockaded al-Hameh and neighboring Qudsaya, home to more than 500,000 people, in July 2015. The towns are divided by a road that is covered by sniper fire, and it is difficult but possible to travel back and forth, al-Futouh said.

The United Nations does not include al-Hameh and Qudsaya on its list of besieged areas.

Moadimiyet a-Sham

Syrian regime forces allowed bread to enter the blockaded southwest Damascus town of Moadimiyet a-Sham on Saturday following a five-month shortage, a member of the town’s media office told Syria Direct on Sunday.

“The Local Council distributed 3,500 bundles of bread to 8,800 families,” Muhammad Nour, a member of the Moadimiyet a-Sham media office told Syria Direct on Sunday. “Each family received four loaves of bread.”

The bread delivery also followed “the deaths of 11 people as a result of malnutrition,” Nour told Syria Direct. The latest was Ali Taqtaq, a young man who Nour says died several days ago “after eating only grass for an entire week.”

The bread arrived after “long negotiations,” between Moadimiyeh and regime officials that “had essentially stopped,” Nour told Syria Direct. “After the UN announced its intention to airdrop aid, the negotiations were revived.”

Two days before starving Moadimiyeh residents received bread, a small number of them were allowed to pass through the four regime checkpoints east of the city on Thursday “to buy a sandwich and a can of cola for SP1,000 [approx. $4.60],” Nour told Syria Direct on Sunday. “The condition was that they ate it outside the city, and couldn’t bring it back in with them.”

The southwest Damascus town of Moadimiyet a-Sham, home to an estimated 44,000 people, has been completely encircled by regime forces since 2012, despite a truce signed the following year. The town last received aid in late February after an internationally brokered cessation of hostilities went into effect.

The UN recognizes Moadimiyet a-Sham as a besieged area.

Harasta

On Wednesday, May 18, 29 trucks carrying food and medical supplies entered the regime-blockaded town of Harasta for the first time since 2012.

Located approximately 7km northeast of central Damascus in the rebel-held East Ghouta suburbs, Harasta is home to up to 15,000 people and has been encircled by regime forces since 2012.

The joint aid delivery by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and United Nations contained “2,000 40-kilogram parcels with enough materials for one family for one month,” Abu Yasin al-Harastani, an aid official in the Harasta Local Council told Syria Direct.

In addition to food, the delivery included diapers, sanitary pads and household cleaning supplies.

“Residents are in a miserable situation,” al-Harastani told Syria Direct. “Most of them are living in poverty because of the siege, so the aid delivery was a dream.”

While extensive tunnel networks supply East Ghouta with some food and other goods, “Ghouta’s need is greater than the tunnels can fill,” Ahmad Omar, a member of the Harasta city media office told Syria Direct.

“It was a huge psychological relief for the residents,” said al-Harastani, referring to Wednesday’s aid. “People felt as though they were still being remembered in the minds of the world.”

The UN recognizes Harasta as a besieged area.

Maher al-Hamdan

Maher comes from Outer Damascus. He is currently a political science student at Asia Virtual University in Malaysia. During the conflict, Maher worked with different local coordination offices in Outer Damascus. He moved to Jordan in June 2015. He joined Syria Direct to professionalize his journalism skills.

Alaa Nassar

Alaa was forced to flee Damascus with her family because of the pressure from the Syrian regime in 2013. She was a student of Arabic Language & Literature at the University of Damascus. She came to Syria Direct because she hopes to find a new direction in her life and to show the world what is happening in her country.

Mateo Nelson

Mateo Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. Mateo holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.