AFP reports: Under international pressure, Syria’s government has agreed to partial aid access for thousands of civilians living under regime siege but one town near Damascus remains a “thorn in its side”: Daraya.
The town was one of the first to erupt in demonstrations against the government — and one of the first to be placed under a strict regime siege in late 2012.
Despite appeals from its residents, the United Nations and rights groups, Syria’s government has steadfastly refused to allow aid convoys into the town, most recently in a dramatic 11th-hour rejection earlier this month.
Since a partial truce began in February, aid groups have made modest strides in reaching some besieged areas with assistance.
But Daraya remains without a drop of aid.
“The regime is using its ‘submit or starve’ policy to try and take back the town,” said Bissan Fakih, spokeswoman for The Syria Campaign, an advocacy group focused on the conflict.
“Daraya is on the capital’s doorstep, so the regime won’t give it up.”
The town lies a mere 15-minute drive southwest of central Damascus and is even closer to the regime’s prized Mazzeh air base, which hosts the feared air force intelligence services and their notorious prison.
A source close to the government said: “Daraya has a special place in the government’s mind.
“The state wants to take Daraya — it doesn’t want a truce there. The location is too strategic.”
Clashes on the town’s edges have intensified as pro-government news website Al-Masdar said the army would “kick off a major military operation” to capture Daraya in the coming days.
Daraya was once known for its sprawling grape vines and factories producing delicate embroidered tablecloths sold throughout the capital.
When Syria’s uprising began in 2011, the town’s protesters became renowned for handing out flowers and water to government soldiers.
But daily death tolls grew as sniper fire turned to shelling and residents began to take up arms against the regime. [Continue reading…]