As regime drops hundreds of barrel bombs on Darayya, rebel spokesman says ‘history will take note of how the revolution abandoned us’

AMMAN: The Syrian regime reportedly dropped a dozen barrel bombs on Darayya on Thursday, the seventh consecutive day of air and land attacks on the encircled Damascus suburb, as one opposition spokesman inside the town called on rebels “to come to our aid.”

The Syrian regime and allied forces have dropped more than 200 barrel bombs on Darayya in the past week, Ayham Abu Mohammed, a spokesman with Liwa Shuhada al-Islam told Syria Direct on Thursday.

“During the most intense days of this most recent campaign, regime forces were dropping as many as 60 barrel bombs a day on Darayya,” Abu Mohammed said.

In the face of near-constant shelling from tank and mortar fire, Darayya’s rebel groups—Liwa Shuhada al-Islam and Ajnad a-Sham—have largely repelled multiple advances from regime forces to regain control of the city.

“We have fought against the regime with every fiber of our being,” Tamam Abdul Rahim, a second spokesman with Liwa Shuhada al-Islam, told Syria Direct.

“But to every commander of every rebel group, I ask ‘when will you come to our aid?’”

A once-quiet suburb southwest of central Damascus, Darayya was home to 170,000 people before the war. Today, 8,300 people live in what is left of one of Syria’s most-bombed cities.

 Barrel bombs land on Darayya on Monday. Photo courtesy of the Darayya Local Council.

On May 12, regime forces prevented an international aid convoy carrying what would have been the first assistance to reach the town since the regime encircled it in November 2012. When Darayya residents gathered to collect the promised delivery of vaccinations and school supplies, regime forces responded by shelling the area, killing two civilians.

It was not immediately clear why the regime bombed Darayya, as the town is ostensibly covered by the cessation of hostilities, brokered by the United States and Russia in February. An estimated 12 barrel bombs were dropped on Thursday alongside two surface-to-surface missiles.

Since the food delivery and the start of new hostilities, rebel and regime forces have clashed along two fronts in the west and south of Darayya.

“Living conditions in Darayya are beyond bad right now,” rebel spokesman Abdul Rahim said. Families “are once again forced down into underground bunkers in order to avoid the regime’s barrel bombs.”

 The morning call to prayer in Darayya. Photo courtesy of the Darayya Local Council.

Pro-regime daily Al-Watan reported on Thursday that regime forces have made substantial advances on Darayya, “taking control of 42 city blocks” in addition to killing prominent Liwa Shuhada al-Islam field commander Osama Abu Zeid.

Meanwhile, Abdul Rahim tells Syria Direct that losses between the two sides have been largely asymmetric.

“Throughout this most recent campaign, regime and allied forces have lost 12 military vehicles including tanks, Shilkas [Ed.: Soviet-era anti-aircraft weapons systems that the regime uses in urban environments] and more than 10 men,” he added.

‘The pressure to surrender is strong’

On June 1, the first aid convoy finally entered Darayya, delivering medical supplies only.

The first food aid shipment arrived in the Damascus suburb late June 9, with “only enough to provide food for one month for only a third of the city’s population,” Darayya’s Local Council wrote in a Facebook post on June 15.

This past Tuesday, four days after the food shipment, the Darayya Local Council successfully distributed the aid.

“The only reason for the delay was the incessant bombardment that the city was subjected to,” the Darayya Local Council wrote on Facebook. “The Assad regime targeted the city with a shower of barrel bombs…dropped indiscriminately, and during day and night time.”

The Local Council made sure to avoid large gatherings at all costs while distributing the aid.

“Any large gathering was a potential target for the regime to shell us or to drop barrel bombs,” said Abdul Rahim.

Darayya’s remaining population lives under what independent monitor Siege Watch calls a “Tier 1 siege,” meaning that the UN “is able to negotiate few if, any, aid deliveries.” Residents face “a high risk of malnutrition/dehydration and denial of medical care,” according to Siege Watch’s website.

Over the course of the three-year bloody stalemate, the regime has dropped more than 6,800 barrel bombs on Darayya but has been unable to retake the suburb, strategically situated near the Mezze military airport.

“The pressure inside Darayya to surrender is strong,” said Liwa Shuhada al-Islam’s Abdul Rahim. “The regime burned our agricultural land while blockading the city, all in an attempt to force us to capitulate,” he added, referring to the Darayya Local Council’s June 1 video showing burnt crops in Darayya under the caption: “While besieged people in Darayya are waiting for long-awaited medical aid, Assad forces are shelling and burning crops inside Darayya.” Syria Direct could not immediately verify the council’s claim.

Inside Darayya, residents have had no access to electricity or safe drinking water for three years.

“The status of the medical sector in Darayya is catastrophic, and a number of civilians have died after being unable to access medical care,” Siege Watch reported in their second quarterly report of 2016 published last week.

Liwa Shuhada al-Islam’s Abdul Rahim called for help from fellow rebels outside because the town embodies “the spirit of the revolution,” as one of the first to rise up against the Assad regime.

“History will take note of how the revolution abandoned Darayya in its darkest days.”

Waleed Khaled a-Noufal

Waleed a-Noufal was born in Ankhel in northern Daraa province. He attended high school in Ankhel but could not continue his study because of security reasons. Waleed worked as an activist in his local city council and the Umayya Media Center. In 2013, he moved to Jordan and finished his high school degree. Waleed wants to bring about a solution to the current crisis through his reporting. Follow Waleed on Twitter: @walid_ALnofal.

Justin Schuster

Justin Schuster graduated from Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Affairs and Modern Middle Eastern Studies. He was a 2015-2016 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. Justin worked as a reporter and translator with Syria Direct before serving as the Managing Director.

Kristen Demilio

Kristen Gillespie Demilio has more than 10 years of experience reporting from the Middle East while based in Amman. She regularly contributed to news outlets including CBS News Radio, NPR, The Jerusalem Report and PBS and is a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism as well as the Institut Français des Etudes Arabes in Damascus.