Famine causes ulcers

Syria: Hunger as a weapon

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What is more harrowing? The current pictures of children from Madaja who are emaciated down to the skeleton? Or the fact that we've seen something similar so often when we wanted to see it? Yarmouk, Muadhamiya, Douma, Aleppo. These are the names of places in Syria where hunger is used as a weapon.

So now Madaja and Zabadani, Fua and Kefraya. You have to name four names to understand this one story. Madaja and Zabadani are neighboring cities, the local borders almost touch. Since July last year, they have been cordoned off by the Syrian army and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, which is allied with it. In the past few weeks, deaths from hunger and malnutrition have increased. The Syrian government announced on Thursday that it would allow aid convoys into the city. This means a loosening, not a lifting of the blockage. But the 40,000 residents have heard such promises over and over again in the past weeks and months. Supplies are as good as used up and are available at ridiculous prices: a kilo of flour costs 100 dollars, a kilo of rice costs 200 dollars - currently an absurd world record. A few days ago, a resident put his car up for sale in Madaja. The price, painted on a piece of paper behind the windshield: "ten kilos of rice and five kilos of baby milk powder". Merchants are said to be hoarding goods to drive up prices.

Conversations with the besieged are possible via Facebook and Skype, and for them it is often a surreal, devastating experience: The virtual connection with the outside world works well enough to let them take part in their own struggle for survival for a moment - until it is off the radar screen of the international one Media disappears. Here are the minutes of a conversation with Amer Bourhan, 50 years old, director of the only hospital in Zabadani, held on Thursday afternoon. It is the third or fourth interview that he gives foreign media that day, although he can hardly stand on his feet himself:

We eat our only meal in the evening. We eat like animals, live on grass and tree leaves. Now there is snow here, so there is no grass. The only available leaves come from the olive trees. Some of them get acutely ill We recently baked animal feed bread, but the animal feed ran out a few days ago.

So far we have documented 56 deaths from hunger and malnutrition. Many people are extremely emaciated and faint all the time. We give them a sugar solution to wake them up again. Many have stomach and intestinal ulcers because they feed on boiled water with herbs or spices. At the moment, people have around 0.5 percent of their calorie requirements here. "

It is around 30 kilometers from Madaja / Zabadani to the capital Damascus and a good 10 kilometers to the Lebanese border. These are fatal geographic details. Because Zabadani was a central station on the Iran-Syria-Lebanon axis until the beginning of the Syrian civil war. Here the Shiite Hezbollah militia accepted arms deliveries from its Iranian sponsor - under the benevolent protection of the Assad regime. In order to maintain this axis, Tehran and Hezbollah intervened so massively in the Syrian civil war.

The fact that Zabadani of all places was captured by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) at the beginning of the civil war in 2011 was not only a shock for the Assad regime, but also for Iran and Hezbollah. Since then there has been bitter fighting for the city, of which not much is left. A hodgepodge of rebels, including FSA fighters and members of the Islamist militia Ahrar al-Sham, have holed up in some neighborhoods. These are the last anti-Assad bases along the Syrian-Lebanese border. Most of the population has fled to Madaja or was driven there by Hezbollah - that is, from one siege ring to the next, from which there is no escape. Snipers lurk on the arterial roads, the secret routes are mined. Several dozen people are said to have been killed trying to escape.