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Rebels hang on to East Ghouta despite crippling blockade

October 29, 2014 This is the second of two interviews, […]

29 October 2014

October 29, 2014

This is the second of two interviews, asking the same questions of a resident of Damascus, published Tuesday, and just a few kilometers away, a resident of the Ghouta suburbs.

While the three-year long conflict has drained resources across the country, residents of East Ghouta, the sprawling rebel-controlled suburbs east of Damascus, have been hit the hardest.

The suburbs’ close proximity to the capital has turned it into both a primary security concern for the regime and an important strategic launching pad for the rebels.

Most of East Ghouta has been under a total blockade since October 2012, which means that regime forces encircle rebel-controlled towns and allow supplies and people to come and go based on its will.

Residents have been forced to learn how to adjust to scarce resources, a Zamalka-based  journalist, who works for pro-opposition news channel Al-Aan, tells Syria Direct’s Mohammad al-Haj Ali, by retrieving water from hand-drawn wells and grinding barley to bake bread.

The journalist, who asked to remain anonymous out fear for his safety, talks about life with no electricity since 2012, an unstable food supply and getting used to the idea that the regime can target your time any time, meaning “you can go out, but you never know if you are coming back or not.”

Q: How is the security and safety situation in East Ghouta?

There is no safety in Eastern Ghouta as long as the regime targets and attacks everywhere. You can go out and walk, but you never know if you are coming back or not.

The security within the community is okay. There is some deficiency, but generally speaking you can leave your motorcycle and go for a while, you can leave your house without thinking it will be robbed at any moment. There are thieves as in any other society, but if we compare it to any place with no security forces, you can say security and safety in Ghouta is excellent.

Residents in Zamalka have been under siege since 2012. Photo courtesy of @lyhbs.

Q: How is the electricity service in your neighborhood, and in East Ghouta in general?

There hasn’t been electricity in Eastern Ghouta since October 2012. There are local generators that work on diesel that help people to have some electricity.

Q: How do people prepare for winter with so little electricity?                         

There are two levels: First is food storage. East Ghouta drew a good harvest of vegetables during the summer, so people dry it and store for winter season. Some vegetables come from Damascus, but are very expensive. Last winter, a kilo of rice cost 200 Syrian pounds [$1.22], which is 10 times the regular price.

The second part is the logistics around the blockade, continuous blackout, and the gasoline prices that are so high that a liter of diesel fuel costs 1,200 Syrian pounds [$7.32].

People collect wood to use it for heating during the winter. They also use the wood for cooking since cooking gas is expensive too.

Q: Is there enough water to meet people’s needs?

Drinking water is available, but in small amounts. The regime provides water one day a week to Eastern Ghouta. The rest of the week people depend on manually drawing water from wells.

Q: Is food available? What are the prices like?

The food flow depends. The regime controls the only road [in and out of Ghouta]. When the regime opens the road, it taxes whatever is passing through. They weigh the whole truck and charge 200 Syrian pounds [$1.22] for each kilo. For example: if sugar costs 100 Syrian pounds [$0.61] per kilo, 200 Syrian pounds will be added as a tax. Then the cost will be 300 Syrian pounds [$1.83], in addition to transportation, storing and the profit fees. The price for the customer will reach up to 600 Syrian pounds [$3.66] inside Ghouta.

The regime doesn’t allow a constant flow of food to Ghouta. Sometimes no food enters for a whole month. And sometimes they allow food trucks to enter on a daily basis, it depends on the officer [on duty] and whether he wants to let it in or not. The prices affect one million people who live in Ghouta.

Q: Are aid organizations operating in Eastern Ghouta?

The blockade on Eastern Ghouta does not allow any aid organization to enter. The same applies to aid convoy. The only way to help is to send money or buy from the supplies that the regime allows to pass into East Ghouta.

Q: How is the health care situation? Is medicine available? Are there enough doctors?

The medical field is the most organized sector in Eastern Ghouta. The only things missing are equipment and medicine. There is shortage in medications and the prices are high.

Medicine comes through smugglers only.

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