In Syrian town cut off from the world, glimpses of deprivation

The New York Times reports: Nisrine kept teaching school for months as the siege tightened around the Syrian town of Madaya, but had to give up a few weeks ago when her students got too weak to walk to class. A local medic has been surviving on the rehydration salts he gives patients, while a business school graduate picks grass to make soup for his 70-year-old father, consulting shepherds about which ones their long-since-slaughtered flocks liked best.

A dozen women waited anxiously in their doorways one recent evening as an antigovernment activist named Firas trudged slowly up their street handing out small batches of smuggled bulgur wheat.

Firas, though, was in shock. He had taken a meal to the house of Suleiman Fares, 63 and bone-thin, in hopes of saving his life, only to find him already dead. Frustrated, Firas declared that far to the north, rebels allied with those in Madaya ought to resume shelling two pro-government towns — towns full of civilians who are also suffering, tit for tat, a siege from the other side.

“Better to die fighting,” he said that night in one of a series of recent telephone interviews, “than to starve.”

The people of Madaya and neighboring Zabadani have tried, since the siege by pro-government forces began in July, to keep society functioning and adjust to their surreal new set of dynamics. There is the black market across blockade lines, for instance, and the quiet or unexpected ways this type of warfare can kill: heart attacks, stillbirths, a step on a land mine while foraging for food.

And there is the relentless physical and psychological contraction of their communities, only an hour’s drive from Damascus, Syria, and two from Beirut yet suddenly sealed off from the outside world. [Continue reading…]

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