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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Syrian government using starvation as ‘weapon of war’

Report by Amnesty International claims the Assad regime has besieged rebel areas and cut supplies of food, water and fuel

During fighting in Aleppo, Syrian forces used air strikes against civilian areas. AFP/Karam Al Masri
During fighting in Aleppo, Syrian forces used air strikes against civilian areas. AFP/Karam Al Masri

The Syrian government is cynically using starvation as a weapon of war against opposition groups, according to a report from Amnesty International released today. The NGO alleges that the government of president Bashar Al Assad has imposed sieges on areas where rebel forces operated, stopping such basic necessities as food, fuel and medicine from going in and blocking aid agencies from entering them.

Amnesty interviewed 134 people from across the country to build up a picture of the activities of Mr Al Assad’s resurgent armed forces. Those questioned included residents who had been displaced from rebel-held areas, humanitarian workers, journalists and United Nations staff.

The government move to take the city of Aleppo, which fell to Mr Al Assad’s forces in December 2016 after a four-year campaign in which hundreds were killed and tens of thousands displaced. Air attacks were launched against civilian areas.

“You need months before you die of starvation. The air strike attacks were a different story. You could die from a piece of shrapnel in a fraction of a second. Nobody was protected from the air strikes and shelling. Civilians, rebels, buildings, cars, bridges, trees, gardens etc. were all a target,” one Aleppo resident told Amnesty.

A lawyer who lived in the northwest Syrian town explained how the attacks intensified in the run-up to the final accord that brought a relative peace to Aleppo.

“The last 10 days before the evacuation were a nightmare. The amount of shelling was a clear signal that the government wanted us to leave… and the last five months of the shelling were equal to the past five years of airstrikes and ground attacks … That was enough for me to make me want to leave. Also, how will civilians stay if there is no infrastructure, no hospitals, electricity or water? The government made its objective to destroy everything and leave us with nothing to stay behind for.”

With the tide turning in the fight against ISIL, which once ruled huge parts of Syria, Damascus is now looking to crush the rebel forces that hold sway over a shrinking area of the country.

“While the Syrian government’s stated aim has been to vanquish opposition fighters, its cynical use of ‘surrender or starve’ tactics has involved a devastating combination of sieges and bombardments. These have been part of a systematic, as well as widespread, attack on civilians that amounts to crimes against humanity,” said Philip Luther, research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“If the Syrian government, as well as armed opposition groups such as the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, are serious about reconciliation, they must immediately put an end to these unlawful practices, lift sieges and end attacks on the thousands of civilians who remain besieged across Syria,” said Mr Luther.