The Washington Post ran a story last December about the trials and tribulations of Eastern Ghouta, a Damascene suburb that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) captured in late 2012. Immediately after the FSA claimed control over the town, President Bashar Al-Assad enforced a siege against its residents, severely restricting access to food, water, and other basic necessities, like electricity and medical aid.
Over the course of the year that followed, the Assad regime increasingly tightened its grip over Eastern Ghouta. With life in the suburb becoming utterly unbearable, the FSA launched “a military operation in a regime-controlled area called al-Matahin, the Mills, just outside Eastern Ghouta. Its objective was to secure a flour mill, flanked by two rows of grain silos that housed part of the Syrian government’s strategic wheat reserves,” according to the Post.
The offensive was successful. The residents of Eastern Ghouta were so relieved to have access to food they rushed to help FSA fighters retrieve flour from the mill. Quoting Majd Al-Dik, a Syrian humanitarian who works for the aid group Spring of Life, the Post reported that the residents of the town were so famished that “they were ready to die just to be able to eat.”
If the rebels had failed to capture the flour mill, it is likely the entire town would have fallen to the Assad regime. To this day, Eastern Ghouta remains under siege, but under rebel control. In this respect, Eastern Ghouta is “lucky.” Nevertheless, the unbearable conditions under which their residents live is by no means unique.
The Assad regime has strategically imposed sieges across multiple rebel-held towns and cities. Referred to as a “kneel or starve” tactic, the approach is meant to force rebels to either die of starvation or cede control of the areas they control.
In many cases, the strategy has proven quite successful. Last month, the rebel-held town of Daraya was entirely evacuated after resisting a four-year-long starvation siege that Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky would have undoubtedly described as “artistically cruel.” Like the residents of Eastern Ghouta, Daraya’s townsfolk were starved and isolated—the only difference being that they did not have access to a flour mill.
Earlier this month, another rebel-controlled Damascene suburb, Moadamiyeh, was evacuated after three years of resisting an unrelenting starvation siege. The latest area to succumb to the “kneel or starve” strategy is the town of Al-Waer, a suburb of the city of Homs. The town of Madaya, which is also under siege and has not received any humanitarian aid since April, is likely to follow in Al-Waer’s path, if circumstances in the town do not improve soon.
According to a recent report from The Guardian, “UN aid deliveries are consistently failing to reach the vast majority of the 590,200 Syrians living in besieged areas, and convoys have been stripped of almost 50 tonnes of potentially lifesaving medical equipment [by the Assad regime] in the past eight months.”
Clearly, as far as the Assad regime is concerned, using starvation as a weapon of war is the most potent tactic to achieving its goals. And, if starvation is the tactic, then bombing is the means to perpetually enforce it. The lack of a proper ceasefire means that Assad and his allies will continue to bomb aid convoys attempting to reach these besieged areas.