The combination of a regime-imposed siege and arbitrary administrative borders is depriving a group of rebel-held villages in south Hama province of much-needed aid and government services.
The villages around Mount Taqsis, while technically located inside Hama Province’s administrative borders, belong to a pocket of rebel-controlled territory encompassing most of the northern Homs countryside, including the towns of Rastan and Talbiseh.
Given this unlucky geographic positioning, the villages are now a “forgotten area,” a Taqsis resident tells the Syrian Voice. Regime forces have blocked aid and foodstuffs from entering Taqsis since March and the nearby, rebel-administrated Homs Provincial Council refuses to provide the area with support because it does not fall within the province’s administrative boundaries.
Hama’s southern countryside under siege
Mount Taqsis and its surrounding villages, the largest of which is also named Taqsis and is home to 10,000 residents including 2,000 internally displaced people, is located in southeastern Hama province, near a large regime army barracks. Given the area’s strategic proximity to these barracks, the site of a military research center, regime forces began imposing a siege on the area—barring residents from leaving and blocking food and medicine from entering—this March.
Less than 6 months later, the villages’ only bread oven has shut down, the price of bread and other foodstuffs has skyrocketed and there are no operating medical clinics.
The area around Taqsis “has been forgotten with regard to medical care, nutrition, and even media coverage,” Dr. Mustafa Khalouf, a physician in the neighboring north Homs countryside, tells the Syrian voice.
One indicator of the siege’s impact is the price of bread, either bought from neighboring Rastan or smuggled in from regime-controlled Hama, which has reached SP700 [approximately $3.25] per kilo, Ahmed Hassan, a citizen journalist tells the Syrian Voice.
“The regime burns agricultural crops, especially wheat, and takes possession of what is left, imposing their terms onto the residents,” says Hassan.
“So the residents give what wheat they produce in exchange for the ability to run their oven and the [regime] allowing the entry of some basic necessities.”
But the prices of these other “basic necessities” are also being driven up by the siege.
“The situation became even more difficult with the closing of smuggling routes which had brought in some food,” Obeida Abu Khuzaima, another citizen journalist, tells Syria Direct.
“If some people are able to get vegetables and materials from regime-controlled territories, then they have to pay a sum at the military checkpoint which ends up increasing the price of the goods,” he explained.
The public health sector in Hama’s southern villages has also deteriorated, says Khalouf.
Now “residents are forced to cross long distances, endure the dangers of the road (including shelling) in order to reach the nearest medical site in Zafarana, north of Homs, and obtain medical services.”
Hama’s southern towns marooned by lines on a map
For the southeastern towns of Hama, support from the Hama Provincial Council vanished after the regime cut off the opposition territories in the northern countryside from those in the southeast.
Nayef Abu Obeida, a member of the Hama Provincial Council, explains the body’s position to the Syrian Voice: “In terms of the council, it supports projects in all areas of the province.We implemented a fasting project (providing food for iftar, the breaking of the fast). However, we haven’t set aside any support for the area’s ovens, either for operational costs or flour.”
Abu Obeida attributed the lack of project support in the southern Hama countryside to the lack of funds.
“We don’t receive any support from our provincial council, due to the siege,” a Taqsis resident who requested anonymity tells the Syrian Voice
“There also aren’t any services from local organizations, except for a few activities organized by area residents to help one another,” he adds.
For his part, Mr. Faisal Al-Azzou, president of the local council in Homs’s Rastan, tells the Syrian Voice that the council “has not allocated anything for those areas.”
“The local council barely has enough to cover the need of the people in the northern Homs countryside who are also under siege,” he says.
Taqsis finds itself unable to obtain services either through its proximity to the Homs northern countryside or through its place under the Hama Provincial Council.
Activists and citizens are calling for the arrival of humanitarian aid to alleviate the burden of the siege.