Assad’s latest war crime hits Yarmouk refugee camp

There must be serious pressure on the Assad regime to end the heinous and intentional blocking of humanitarian aid

Brooklyn Middleton
Brooklyn Middleton - Brooklyn Middleton
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The exact figure of how many people have died from starvation in Syria is unknown; reports are nebulous and uncorroborated but punctuated with copious photographic evidence: an elderly man with his mouth agape, ribs and hip bones protruding from his wrinkled skin; a newborn baby with a powdery complexion, her cheeks sunken and her lifeless doll-like eyes and mouth permanently frozen wide open.

Systematic starvation is a dehumanizing, effective, and an increasingly used weapon of war from Bashar al-Assad’s brutal arsenal. Worst-affected by the hunger-bombardment is the rebel-held Yarmouk refugee camp, located on the southern outskirts of Damascus. The camp, which Assad maintains is overrun with radical jihadist factions, has been under siege from government forces who have completely choked off critical aid supply lines since Sep. 2013.

Most of the 160,000 Palestinian refugees that lived in the camp have fled since the conflict began in 2011 but approximately 18,000 people remain trapped in abhorrent conditions. Social media sources have indicated that sniper fire regularly targets both those that dare to attempt to flee and those that try to gather food.

A recent U.N. statement echoed these claims: “UNRWA, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, expressed its profound disappointment that a six-truck convoy was unable to deliver assistance to the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria on Jan. 13. The convoy had to turn back after a bulldozer clearing the road was fired upon. UNRWA said it would continue to work with the Syrian authorities and liaise with other groups to seek access to that camp. It is primarily in the Syrian authorities’ hands to allow access to Yarmouk Camp.”

Aid workers’ attempts at navigating the dire security situation to transport humanitarian goods to areas of need have often resulted in epic failure; this fact compounded with Assad’s intentional blocking of critical goods as a military tactic has caused hunger to grow insidiously for months now. In October, reports surfaced that Damascus Imam Salah al-Khatib issued a fatwa permitting starving Syrians to eat stray animals including dogs “not because it is religiously permitted, but because it is a reflection of the reality we are suffering.” More recent reports have included that refugees have reportedly ate animal feed and grass to survive.

There must be serious pressure on the Assad regime to end the heinous and intentional blocking of humanitarian aid

Brooklyn Middleton

In the recent term, upwards of 50 people have died from malnutrition and other preventable illnesses in the Yarmouk camp – a direct result of ongoing attempts to block aid workers’ access to the camp.

While the Assad regime blames the jihadist factions for preventing the flow of critical aid, it is worth noting his forces have had little issue accessing the camp to attack it. During one of countless sleepless nights for Syrians, on Jan. 16, the Syrian airforce viciously targeted the “Palestine Park" area of Yarmouk with a barrel bomb, killing at least seven people. Basma Atassi, an al-Jazeera reporter appropriately tweeted: “The regime that is capable of dropping barrel bombs on Yarmouk with such efficiency, can certainly manage to drop baby milk and bread.” Of course they can, but they continuously refuse to do so.

Grim precedent

Around the same time the U.N. decided it was no longer possible to continue accurately updating the skyrocketing death toll (now well over 100,000), at least one shipment of chemical weapons and/or materials were safely guarded out of Syrian territory and destined for destruction. If the Assad regime can orchestrate the safe transport of their chemical weapon arsenal through a raging conflict zone, they can certainly facilitate the transfer of humanitarian aid to the Yarmouk refugee camp.

Despite the grim precedent that has been set ever since the international community gave a collective head-nod for Assad to continue massacring Syrians – albeit sans chemical weapons – Russia has indicated that the Assad regime should end the heinous and intentional blocking of humanitarian aid; this is an extremely basic precondition that must be agreed to before 35 countries and the Syrian Opposition attend the U.N.-led peace conference on Jan. 22 in Switzerland.

The Assad regime may consider opening up besieged areas for critical aid; the notion that ending an intentional campaign of withholding humanitarian goods – a war crime - is being tossed around the board room as a potential bargaining chip for peace talks is not just profoundly evil but also sets the international community’s expectations of the Assad regime even lower.

Brooklyn Middleton is a Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. You can follow her on twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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