Syrians Eat Leaves as Combatants Block Food Supplies: HRW

Syrians in besieged communities are being denied food by both government forces and some opposition groups, leaving poorly nourished civilians to scavenge to stay alive, according to Human Rights Watch.

The New York-based group interviewed activists and residents in districts of Damascus, communities close to the capital and in the city of Homs, it said in a report today. A total of 288,000 people are estimated by the United Nations to be living under siege in these areas.

“The only food we have left is olives, some basic vegetables, and we eat the leaves off the trees,” the advocacy group quoted an activist in Moadamiya, near Damascus, as saying. “Sometimes we cook soup using some of the vegetables, add salt and pepper and olive oil, but it tastes like nothing and it provides little nutrition.”

Syria’s two-year civil war has claimed at least 125,000 lives, about half of them civilians, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said yesterday. Fighting in Syria has spilled into neighboring Lebanon, Israel and Turkey even as the UN Security Council has often split over a possible international response.

“Access to besieged communities is a litmus test for real change in the relief effort, and the Security Council should make clear that Syria is failing that test,” HRW’s Philippe Bolopion said in the report.

UN Resolution

The Security Council on Oct. 2 demanded “immediate action to facilitate safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance in the whole country, including in areas and districts where humanitarian needs are especially urgent.” It did not specify any consequences for non-compliance.

Valerie Amos, the UN’s humanitarian chief, is to brief the Security Council on the situation in Syria later today. Human Rights Watch said the council should adopt a formal resolution requiring the warring parties to provide access for relief workers.

Some residents in besieged communities reported that the government had tightened its grip in recent months, the report said.

With electricity and communications already cut, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have lately stopped people leaving on foot to collect food, according to people in south Damascus, Moadamiya, and Eastern Ghouta.

“People’s faces are yellow because of malnutrition and all of us have lost a lot of weight,” the Moadamiya activist told HRW. “I myself lost about 17 kilograms in the last four months. We start to feel cold very quickly. We can’t fight the low temperatures. That is now one more enemy for us -– the cold. It is a terrifying situation.”

Medical services have also suffered, with many buildings destroyed and patients being treated in field hospitals. Medical supplies including antibiotics, bandages, and anesthetics have run out, according to the report.

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