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“You’re thirsty, but we’re dying”: Residents trapped in besieged Wadi Barada

By Abdelwahab Ahmad

Over two weeks into the Syrian government’s military escalation in the Wadi Barada region, besieged local residents are running out of food and basic supplies as regime and Russian bombardment intensifies in the area.

Some locals tell the Syrian Voice that they’ve resorted to burning furniture to stay warm, with diesel and firewood having long run out as the coldest days of the year begin.

“We’re eating the food that was left over from summer, but we’re almost out,” says Um Muhammad, a 30-year-old mother of five. “There’s just nothing else, and it’s all we have. We can’t get even the basics from grocery stores here.”

Um Muhammad has spent most of her time in a bomb shelter since the regime launched its attack on Wadi Barada on December 22nd. Since the offensive began, 9 civilians have been killed and over 70 injured by airstrikes.

For injured Syrians, the siege has made medical supplies scarce with Wadi Barada’s only hospital out of service after being bombed the regime.

Wadi Barada is located northwest of Damascus, and is home to the Ein al-Fijeh water spring, a crucial water source for the Syrian capital. The fighting in the area has left much of Damascus without water, as rebels and the regime argue over who is to blame.

“The regime does not distinguish between civilian and military targets,” says Abu Muhammad al-Bardawi, spokesperson for the media commission in Wadi Barada. “The siege and regime bombardment has caused the humanitarian situation to deteriorate.”

“The offensive comes at the coldest time of the year, and some are burning furniture in their homes to stay warm,” al-Bardawi tells the Syrian Voice.

According to al-Bardawi, the siege of the Wadi Barada prevents medical supplies and food from entering the area. Though the regime has let around 1,300 civilians evacuate to Syria’s north, 90,000 residents remain trapped in Wadi Barada.

When Um Muhammad and her five kids tried to leave through a humanitarian corridor, she was turned away at a checkpoint. Her husband is a rebel fighter, and the regime has disallowed families of militants from exiting Wadi Barada.

The regime offensive in Wadi Barada comes during a fragile ceasefire brokered by Iran, Turkey, and Russia, that has frozen hostilities in much of the country. The ceasefire does not include areas under ISIS or Jabhat Fateh a-Sham (formerly Nusra Front) control. The Syrian government claims that Jabhat Fateh a-Sham is fighting in Wadi Barada, therefore exempting the area from the ceasefire.

Some residents are concerned that Wadi Barada could be the next opposition stronghold evacuated to Idlib province in Syria’s north as part of an agreement to end the siege of its residents—the latest in a string of evacuations that have seen Aleppo, Daraya, Khan a-Sheih, and others emptied of rebel fighters and their families.

“Wadi Barada will not end up like other cities,” says Abu Zeid, a member of Ahrar a-Sham’s leadership in Wadi Barada. “We will fight the regime’s aim to displace the people of Wadi Barada, and we will not accept any solutions that do not satisfy the local population.”

Abu Zeid also denied the presence of Jabhat Fateh a-Sham, claiming that all fighters are locals under the leadership of Ahrar a-Sham and the Free Syrian Army.

Opposition activists have criticized the attention given to Damascus’ water shortage in comparison to the violence in Wadi Barada, launching a series of protests under a campaign called “Because of Assad, you’re thirsty and we’re dying.”

Translated by Justin Clark

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