Syria: Yarmouk siege claims another 26 lives

‘Thousands of people in Yarmouk and other areas are enduring a terrible lingering fate’ - Kristyan Benedict

Woman in besieged Eastern Ghouta forced to give birth in a hospital with only the light from cigarette lighters 

At least 26 more people have died in the ongoing siege of Yarmouk, the large district of the Syrian capital Damascus where some 20,000 have been almost totally cut off from the outside world because of a military siege by government forces.

As of 3 June, according to Amnesty International’s research, 271 individuals - all believed to be civilians - have died since government forces tightened an existing siege on the district last July. 

Twenty-six of these deaths are said to have occurred between 10 April and 3 June. Of these, one death has been attributed to starvation and 25 to a chronic lack of medical care (16 cases were people who reportedly had injuries sustained in shelling, four were reportedly shot by snipers).

In an earlier report on the Yarmouk siege in March, Amnesty showed how Syrian government forces and their allies have repeatedly carried out deadly attacks - including air raids and shelling with heavy weapons - on Yarmouk’s civilian buildings, with schools, hospitals and a mosque all attacked. Amnesty has also described “rampant malnutrition” because of a siege situation where residents have been forced to forage for food in the streets or fields - risking being killed by Syrian army snipers as they scour for anything that might be edible, including cactus and dandelion leaves. 

Amnesty’s latest information on Yarmouk is contained in a new briefing on sieges in Syria, with similar suffering also described in the town of Moadamiya, ten miles from Damascus (20,000 civilians besieged); the town of Daraya, six miles south-west of Damascus (7,000 people besieged); and numerous towns and villages in the Eastern Ghouta area east of Damascus (some 150,000, mostly civilians, besieged).

In Eastern Ghouta a chronic lack of resources means that hospitals usually work on battery-powered lighting. In one case a Caesarean birth was carried out using only the light from cigarette lighters, while only a local anaesthetic was available to quell the mother’s pain.  A local person told Amnesty that the mother’s screaming “could be heard everywhere in the hospital”. Meanwhile, medical staff have reported a re-emergence of diseases that were almost extinct prior to 2011, with smallpox, typhoid and tuberculosis all being reported in besieged areas.

Amnesty International UK Syria campaign manager Kristyan Benedict said:

“With ISIS on the rampage in northern Iraq and the conflict in Syria dragging on and on, there’s a danger that world powers will lose interest in the terrible sieges in Syria.

“Thousands of people in Yarmouk and other areas are enduring a terrible lingering fate - death by starvation, death by sniper, death by medical shortage.

“The UN Security Council must live up to its responsibility to protect and make Bashar al-Assad’s forces bring this medieval cruelty to an end.

“Where armed groups are mounting their own sieges, they too must be pressured by those who have influence over them, to end to this collective punishment of thousands of men, women and children.”

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Report, Mar 2014: Squeezing the life out of Yarmouk: War crimes against besieged civilians