Syria Spotlight: “Regime Attempted Ground Invasion Of Moadamiyyah Via Humanitarian Route”

EAworldview – 22-10.2013 – By Joanna Paraszczuk  –  Civilians in the besieged town of Moadamiyyat Ash Sham, near Damascus, say that President Assad’s forces tried to invade the town on Saturday, using a route previously given to the Syrian Red Crescent to evacuate civilians. The regime has tried to overrun the opposition-controlled town, located near key regime military installations, housing and bases, for more than a year. The town was the target of one of the August 21 chemical weapons attacks and has been under a regime-imposed siege since November 2012, with Assad’s forces preventing food and medical aid from reaching civilians. Recently, the regime turned off the town’s water supply.

A week ago, the regime suddenly gave permission for the Syrian Red Crescent and nuns from the Monastery of St James in Qara to enter the town to evacuate more than 1,000 civilians. The Mother Superior of the St James Monastery, Mother Agnes, has frequently accused the insurgency of atrocities. She has said that the chemical weapons attacks of August 21 were carried out by insurgents, and that the footage of victims of the attacks was faked. EA spoke on Sunday to Qusai Zakarya, a translator who accompanied the UN chemical weapons team on its mission to Moadamiyyat Ash Sham and who is now inside the town.

Zakarya said that on Saturday, regime forces attempted to invade Moadamiyyat through the same western entrance that the Syrian Red Crescent used when it evacuated civilians. Regime troops managed to advance around 200 meters inside the town, Zakarya said. “We are left with many questions over the possibility that they [the Syrian military] got information or even under the table help from the Red Crescent or from people who dressed up as Red Crescent personnel,” Zakarya said, noting that as well as the Crescent staff, two nuns from the St James Monastery were also allowed by the Free Syrian Army to cross the opposition-controlled checkpoint.

“They saw inside the FSA checkpoint,” Zakarya added.

The activist claimed that President Assad’s troops had used a route which only those entering with the Red Crescent would have known.

“We knew this might happen, but we didn’t expect the regime to step so low, and especially not the Red Crescent,” he said. According to Zakarya, the ground battle on the western edge of Moadamiyyat Ash Sham is still raging, though the FSA have managed to push back regime troops.

Zakarya said that civilians in Moadamiyyat Ash Sham are also angry that the Syrian Red Crescent will not go on record to say who is stopping them from delivering aid to the city. Though the regime allowed the Red Crescent to enter to evacuate civilians, the Red Crescent did not bring food or medical aid for those still remaining in the town. The Red Crescent said that their aid workers had been stopped seven times from delivering supplies to the town. “There is an aid convoy that keeps trying to enter Moadamiyyat Ash Sham but the Assad regime prevents them,” Zakarya said, adding that the Red Crescent will not cooperate with the opposition to deliver the aid .

“I am begging them — please stop working only with the regime. We are the revolution in Syria, you can’t only work with the regime,” he said.

Reports Of Evacuees Still Questioned By Regime In Mezze Military Airbase. Zakarya said that the fate of many of the women, children, and older people evacuated from the town remains unknown, though he has now managed to get word from around 12 of those evacuated. According to those people, most of the women and children have been questioned by Assad’s military intelligence personnel. There are three teens who are still being questioned, including a 16- year-old boy who has apparently been taken for questioning to the Mezzeh Military Airbase. “We know that nobody goes inside that facility without facing torture,” Zakarya said. Some of those evacuated remain in a shelter in Qudsaya (a regime-controlled town in Damascus Province), but “this is against their will”, Zakarya said.

“I want to be clear about that. Assad’s intelligence people want to keep them there. They are being watched. We have not yet managed to talk to most of the people there,” he added. Zakarya says that citizens in Moadamiyyat Ash Sham feel abandoned by the West and also by countries whom say they support the insurgency, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey. As for the U.S. State Department’s condemnation on Friday of Assad’s refusal to allow aid through to civilians, Zakarya said that he was glad that Washington was “embarrassed into making a statement”. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “The regime has reportedly allowed a limited number of civilians to evacuate from these areas, but this is no substitute for allowing desperately needed food, water, and medicine to reach the thousands of trapped civilians who remain under siege” and called the limited evacuations from Moadamiyyat Ash Sham “as an excuse to attack those residents who remain behind.” “At least we managed to embarrass the U.S. government into saying something,” Zakarya said. “But it’s not enough. We can’t print out that statement and eat it.”

Zakarya says that those remaining in Moadamiyyat Ash Sham know there won’t be any more evacuations from the city. “We are frightened about what will happen. We are not stupid. We can read between the lines. I want to be clear about this — it’s easier to die from bombing than from starvation. If a bomb hits you die immediately. Starvation takes weeks,” he said — vowing to continue to fight to let people outside Syria know what is happening in Moadamiyyat Ash Sham.

“I don’t want us to die in silence,” he says.

About the Author : Joanna Paraszczuk is EA WorldView’s Managing Editor.