February 27, 2014
On December 26th, rebels and regime troops agreed to a ceasefire in Moadimiyet e-Sham, the “starving suburb” of Outer Damascus, opening a humanitarian corridor into the town after nearly 15 months of siege.
A number of encircled Damascus suburbs have since followed suit: humanitarian convoys entered Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in late January after dozens reportedly died from starvation, while the Syrian government flag was raised when the governor of Outer Damascus visited Babila on February 16th.
Throughout 15 months of government encirclement, Qusai Zakarya emerged as one of the most prominent citizen journalists publicizing the plight of the people of Moadimiyet e-Sham, bringing news of starving citizens into the world in English.
Starvation “can destroy your mind, your hope and your beliefs,” Zakarya told Syria Direct’s Jacob Wirtschafter in the first part of a two-part interview, published Wednesday.
In this second installment, Zakarya explains why internal schisms within the opposition “allow the Assad regime to apply a simple plan of divide and conquer.”
Q: Why did you decide to leave? Did you do it because you were threatened?
Because of my work as a civil activist and a citizen journalist, the regime went after my family and me very seriously. With the help of some snitches, they managed to get my cell phone details and other information, and started tracking my family and friends.
They started arresting my friends in Damascus and my family’s house was raided by intelligence, but they were able to escape.
I have a lot of important work to do and I didn’t want to end up dead or captured in suspicious circumstances, so I decided I should live to fight another day no matter what.
After the beginning of the Geneva talks, I started to get calls from the external negotiating committee. They told me that if I went outside [Moadimiyet e-Sham] and had a talk with some Assad officials, I would be OK and nothing would happen to me.
The thing is that if anything happened to me, if they killed me, the entire world would know I had been in the hands of the Assad regime, and they would know who to blame or question.
The minute I crossed our FSA checkpoint, at the entrance of the town, it was so emotional for me. Leaving after such a long time.
I was so shocked to see the lights of the streets, the cars, people who are just going on with their lives like nothing is happening. Like they don’t notice or care that there are people starving to death only three minutes away from them.
I stayed at the hotel for three days before I saw a high profile officer from the Fourth Division. He welcomed me and did his best to make me feel comfortable. We had an unusually open talk. The bottom line, was no one is going to win and we are both losing. That is what he said.
Q: With moderates killed, leaving and being arrested, what is happening to their initial ideas?
Well, there are only a few left. Most of these true revolutionaries are either dead, assassinated, captured, displaced or worse: becoming neutralized.
At the end of the day, my simple conclusion is that no one wanted to see the Syrian revolution and its goals be successful. Its goals from the beginning were taking down the Assad regime and building a free Syria for everybody. And I will say again for everybody. Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Christians, Druze, Kurds, Palestinians and Armenians: each and every community in Syria.
Q: You got help in your “Break The Siege” Campaign from media people in the Syrian National Coalition. We’ve seen surveys recently from Aleppo that show that very few people inside think of the Coalition as their representative. So I wonder how you see the SNC, its leadership role and prospects for them to usher in a new period.
Like I said, the biggest problem is the lack of leaders inside Syria. That has led to a situation where most of the Syrian revolution is split, which allows the Assad regime to apply a simple plan of divide and conquer.
The biggest problem with the Etilaf [Syrian National Coalition] is that it is a body built from outside [Syria] trying to construct bridges inside [Syria], using supporters’ money and sometimes aid. Only a few members of the Etilaf are familiar with most of the Syrian people and the rebels. Personally I don’t know most of the names of leaders of the Etilaf even most of the high profile names in the Etilaf have a lot of question marks around them, where the came from and who they work for.
Unfortunately it is the biggest body approved by the international community to represent the Syrian revolution. That will lead us into a swamp of bad decisions and more bad days for the revolution.
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