Death in Damascus

For most Syrians, the coming of winter and Scud missiles crossing the skies from one city to another enlist the same horror, as houses exposed to daily shelling no longer have any windows. And, whatever glass was not shattered by shrapnel has been removed by its owners to avoid further destruction.

Electricity is a bygone commodity as it has been cut off in rebel-held areas for more than a year. Few people can afford the cost of fuel and if the previous winter is any indication, they know that it will be available only in rare cases.

Olive trees hundreds of years old are being cut across Damascus’ besieged Ghouta region to be used as fuel for wood stoves. In other non-forested areas under attack, people will be spared the guilt of wasting a national treasure like olive trees, but they will find no means to keep even a little bit warm. We heard many stories last year about people burning whatever is left of their wooden furniture in quest of some warmth for their children.

Some besieged areas, like the Yarmouk camp, Hajar al-Aswad, and Maadhamiyah, are already threatened with humanitarian disaster in the very near future due to the almost total lack of food and medical supplies, and the literally airtight siege on them. Add to that the coming winter, and one can only imagine the slow and harsh death awaiting children, as well as the elderly and the sick in these areas. The coming months will be worse than the previous winter. Fuel was scarce then, but there was still some possibility to bring aid into rebel areas, including food, clothing, and medication.

Sieges are even more destructive when coupled with Syria’s changing seasons. Winter is coming, and many are unprepared for the cold months ahead. Worse, the international community has failed to confront the Syrian regime’s decision to step over its fictitious “red line.”

When will the international community put Syria’s besieged regions on its list of negotiations with the regime (instead of focusing solely on removing its chemical arsenal)? It might help to repeat that death by war, famine, and sickness is no less cruel than a speedy death by choking on sarin gas.

The world must tell the Assad regime it will not negotiate the removal of chemical weapons (and avoidance of the presumed military strike) until after the arrival of aid convoys sent by the Red Cross or others to the besieged areas. Or would that be a waste of time for the international community’s efforts to remove the chemical menace? Does the upcoming humanitarian disaster on the threshold of winter not deserve a try, at least for the sake of international hypocrisy?