Darayya residents to world: ‘If you can stop the shelling, you can break the siege’

AMMAN: Darayya residents are demanding answers from international aid organizations as to why none of the humanitarian assistance stipulated under the terms of a two-week-old ceasefire agreement has reached their southwest Damascus city, encircled by regime forces for more than three years.

One of the terms of a “cessation of hostilities” brokered by the United States and Russia that went into effect at the end of last month stipulates that both Syrian regime forces and opposition groups “allow immediate humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need.”

No aid has entered Darayya, located next to the Mezze military airport southwest of Damascus, since regime forces encircled the city in November 2012. Rebel fighters with the Free Syrian Army affiliate Liwa Shuhada al-Islam and Ajnad a-Sham, an Islamist brigade, currently rule Darayya.

While aid deliveries reached multiple besieged areas across Syria in recent weeks, none came to Darayya, prompting dozens of women and children in the west Ghouta city to demonstrate on Wednesday to demand the delivery of aid and call for an end to the ongoing regime blockade.

 A young demonstrator in Darayya on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Daraya City Local Council

Residents standing on and in front of a pile of rubble carried signs in French, English and Arabic appealing to representatives of the International Red Cross, World Health Organization, and the United Nations for help in photos posted online by the civilian Darayya Local Council. “We want medicine and drinkable water,” reads one sign. Photographed from above, children spell out “S.O.S.” with their bodies.

Wednesday’s demonstration was a “renewal of demands to implement the humanitarian assistance clause,” Muhammad Abi Rashid, a member of the Darayya Local Council’s media office told Syria Direct on Thursday.

“We need food, vaccines for the children and medication for chronic illnesses,” Abi Rashid added. “People are surviving on what food can be grown,” which sells for “unbelievable prices.” Darayya activist Muhanad Abu Zein told Syria Direct last month that the prices of goods such as sugar had increased 200-500 percent from pre-siege levels.

“We direct a lot of calls to aid organizations, but nobody responds,” Karam a-Shami, a Darayya Local Council spokesman told Syria Direct on Thursday.

For now, the ceasefire has given the 12,000 remaining residents of a city once home to 170,000 people two weeks without barrel bombings. Since 2012, more than 6,600 regime barrel bombs have fallen on Darayya. The scale of the destruction is apocalyptic, as seen in Russian drone footage shot in late January.

 Darayya children spell out “SOS” in Wednesday’s demonstration. Photo courtesy of Local Council of Daraya City.

Over the past two weeks, some signs of “normal life” have returned, says a-Shami. “Children are playing in the streets as though it were a holiday,” said a-Shami. “People are visiting each other.”

In 2011, Darayya which was one of the first Syrian cities whose residents participated in the uprising against embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Anti-regime protestors famously offered roses and bottled water to soldiers stationed in the city.

Last Tuesday, Darayya was one of the first Syrian towns to use the lull in bombings to hold an anti-regime demonstration. Three days later on March 4, more than 100 other protests were held across Syria.

While the ceasefire has provided some relief, Wednesday’s demonstration asked international powers and humanitarian organizations to do more.

“If you can stop the shelling, you can break the siege.”

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali, originally from Daraa, had completed his first year studying Broadcast Journalism at Damascus University before leaving Syria in August 2012.

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.