Over the course of 2017, much of the conflict in Syria has moved eastwards, ultimately focusing on the province of Deir ez-Zour. The relative reduction of conflict in western Syria has given some communities the opportunity to start rebuilding. However, there are a number of communities that remain under siege, their humanitarian conditions deteriorating steadily. The rebel-held northern Homs countryside, also known as the “al-Rastan pocket” is one such place.
Named after the largest town in the region, the al-Rastan pocket has witnessed something of a stalemate since 2014, when the rebels lost control of much of Homs City and were confined to the northern countryside, the rebels around them steadily losing territory against the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and ISIS. In 2017, it was listed as a “deescalation zone” under the Astana peace talks. Despite being listed under the deescalation agreement, sporadic clashes continued and aid deliveries were delayed, pushing the prices of vital goods up steadily.
The arrival of 45 trucks carrying aid into al-Rastan is therefore a source of relief for many of the residents here. Supported by the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the trucks contain food, medical supplies and water supplies. It is believed that they will help some 21,500 families.
The delivery of the aid is a step in the right direction. However, the besieged pocket suffers from numerous other problems such as deteriorating infrastructure and declining education quality due to lack of schools and supplies. Issues such as these can cause long-term problems and need long-term solutions.
Meanwhile, other besieged communities in Syria, such as Damascus’ East Ghouta suburb continue to suffer under the siege. Home to some 400,000 people, East Ghouta has recently seen cases of children dying of starvation and malnutrition. Although some aid has been delivered, they were just enough for a fraction of the populace. In contrast the al-Rastan, East Ghouta is also witness intense fighting between government forces and the rebels, leaving the fate of many of the people there uncertain.