Syrian army siege east of capital tightens as food, supplies dwindle

Wed Oct 23, 2013 9:49am EDT
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By Erika Solomon

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's army has sealed the few remaining smuggling routes into the besieged eastern suburbs of Damascus, activists and aid workers said on Wednesday, tightening a chokehold on rebel-held areas near the capital.

Activists inside the Eastern Ghouta region, a semicircle of rural towns outside Damascus, said no food or supplies had entered the region in days. They said the army began intensifying its blockade over a week ago.

Residents worry that conditions will soon mirror those of people living in suburbs to the west of the capital, where hunger has become so severe that doctors have reported several cases of death and illness from malnutrition.

Aid workers confirmed the activists' accounts.

"It seems the government is tightening its grip on these areas. It seems something is going on, but we can't figure it out," one humanitarian worker said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Analysts say President Bashar al-Assad's forces have recently intensified efforts to try and starve out the rebels fighting to oust him.

In the past few months the army has managed to halt the rebels' advance around Damascus, but it has been unable to root them out of many areas they entered on the outskirts of the capital.

"Last week, the army managed to seal the last smuggling route from Damascus that we used to get food and flour. If we don't find a new opening, we'll be destroyed," said an activist who calls himself Nidal, speaking by Skype.   Continued...

Civilians carry bottles as they queue to buy petrol in eastern al-Ghouta, near Damascus, October 22, 2013. REUTERS/Msallam Abd Albaset