Residents of a Syrian town besieged by president Bashar al-Assad’s forces have issued an urgent plea to the world to “save us from death” in an open letter describing desperate conditions and suffering.
Hundreds of men, women and children in Mouadamiya had died and thousands had been wounded, they said.
Mouadamiya, on the south-western outskirts of the capital, Damascus, was occupied by anti-Assad rebels last year and the government has been trying to win it back since then.
“For nearly one year, the city of Mouadamiya has been under siege with no access to food, electricity, medicine, communications, and fuel,” said the letter, distributed by the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) yesterday.
“We have been hit by rockets, artillery shells, napalm, white phosphorous, and chemical weapons,” it said. The writers, who did not give their names, said they had managed to find enough power to run a computer and connect to the internet to send the letter.
“We appeal to your sense of humanity not to forget us,” the residents’ letter said. “We implore you to deliver our message to the whole world. Save us from death. Save us from the hell of Assad’s killing machine.”
A spokesman for the Mouadamiya council, Qusai Zakarya, confirmed that local residents had sent the letter asking for the world’s help.
“We are heading toward a definite destiny: starvation,” he said via Skype, with the clap of shelling and the thumping of a helicopter audible in the background. “Please, we are begging you [international organisations] to enter and distribute food. Residents are living on boiled grape leaves and olives.”
The SNC said nearly 12,000 people face starvation and death in Mouadamiya. About 90 per cent of Mouadamiya has been destroyed, few doctors remain, and residents were eating “leaves of trees”, it said.
Activists said that for months, Syrian troops at checkpoints surrounding the battered suburb have not allowed food or medical supplies to enter. The siege is aimed at squeezing out rebels from the area, they say.
Activists from the Mouadamiya Media Centre reported that six people died of starvation in September, two women and four children.
The government said the residents of Mouadamiya are being “held hostage” by “terrorists” – the term it uses for armed opposition groups. It denies using chemical weapons.
United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said last week that despite the government evacuating 3,000 people this month, thousands more remain trapped inside Mouadamiya. Local doctors have said that hunger has become severe in recent months.
Juliette Touma, Syria spokeswoman for the United Nations Children’s Fund, said their aid teams had been denied access several times to Mouadamiya.
“We know that there are children that are trapped in Mouadamiya. Exactly how many children, we don’t know,” she said.
“Mouadamiya is one part of a bigger story.”
She said it was one of many areas that are “sealed off” to civilian movement by the warring parties.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring organisation said yesterday that rebels and government forces clashed on the edges of Mouadamiya overnight and the army bombed the town.
More than 100,000 people have died during the war, which started with peaceful protests against four decades of Assad family rule in March 2011, then escalated into a civil war with sectarian overtones.
Western powers have mostly backed opposition forces, while Russia and Iran support Mr Assad. Moscow and Washington are planning peace talks in Geneva next month, but the warring parties have not expressed a willingness to compromise.