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Syria's Sieges

Logo https://stories.paxforpeace.nl/siege-watch

PAX and The Syria Institute's Siege Watch project

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Between 2012 and 2018, 2.5 million Syrians lived under siege. Thousands of people died because of the sieges, tens of thousands were injured or suffered from hunger. Hundreds of thousands were forced to move to a different part of the country, and are not allowed to return.
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Abdalmonam Eassa lived under siege for nearly 6 years. He grew up in Hamouriya, a village in the lush Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus. Eastern Ghouta was the bread basket for the capital. It was also the centre of the uprisings against Bashar al-Assad's regime.
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Abdulmonam was 16 when the uprising started. He had been going to high school in Damascus, but as the uprising progressed and the army placed more and more checkpoints on the roads, that became impossible. He was stuck in his hometown.
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"One day, the Syrian army came, blocked the street and got all the men and young men out of their houses. They made us stand in line. They stuffed a t-shirt in your face, you cannot see.

They make us all say that we love Bashar al-Assad. A soldier hit a guy who wasn't saying it loud enough. One soldier joked to another, 'Let's kill every other one. Kill, let live, kill, let live...' I was so scared."
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Eastern Ghouta was one of the centres of the uprising. Early on in the conflict, the Syrian army started surrounding areas that were strongly opposed to Bashar al-Assad's regime. Areas such as Eastern Ghouta. It was collective punishment aimed at anyone daring to oppose Assad. It was also a military strategy, a way to force the opposition to surrender.
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In Hamouriya, Abdulmonam and his family had to scrounge to stay alive. During a particularly bad period, all they had to eat was animal feed, sold by the local farmers who could no longer raise livestock.

Abdulmonam knew a woman who made a fire to boil water, just so her children would think supper was coming. In the meantime, they fell asleep.

Audio: Abdulmonam describes how hard it was to find food

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Sieges were a way to punish everyone living in an area where there was opposition to the regime. The Syrian army, joined during the course of the conflict by Russian and Iranian forces, singled out civilian targets for destruction. They bombed schools, hospitals and markets.

They removed all medical supplies from convoys carrying aid. Sometimes they even bombed aid convoys after they had been allowed to enter a besieged area, before the aid could be distributed.
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Abulmonam took to photography as a way of coping with life under siege. He documented the destruction of his neighbourhood, the killing of friends and family members, the strangling of Eastern Ghouta.

Audio: Abdulmonam says he lost any sense of fear

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Of course, when they weren't taking shelter from bombing raids, people tried to live a normal life. Here a shepherd in the town of Ain Tarma in Eastern Ghouta is moving his flock of sheep.
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Abdulmonam was often faced with tough choices - keep taking photos, or stop and help?
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After nearly two months of intensive bombing, a 'scorched earth' campaign also used on other besieged communities, Eastern Ghouta fell in March 2018. The fighters in Eastern Ghouta finally gave up and were forced to accept terms of surrender which included the deportation of tens of thousands of men, women and children. Abdulmonam was one of the people who got on a green bus and was taken to the north.
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The sieges are over. Except that they aren't over. Not for the people who stayed behind in these towns, cities and villages. They still face hardship, lack of services, surveillance. And those who were deported are not allowed to go back to their homes.

People like Abdulmonam. He made it to Paris, and is adjusting to life there. But he can't see his mother, his brothers or sisters.

He can't go home. 
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