'The smell of blood' haunts Homs neighbourhood al-Waer

Living conditions for thousands of people besieged in the Homs neighbourhood of al-Waer have deteriorated over the last four days in the midst of a renewed Syrian regime assault.

Al-Waer – the only remaining rebel-controlled neighbourhood in Homs – has witnessed the deployment of tank and artillery fire, while snipers have been positioned on several main streets surrounding the area.

At least 80 people have been injured in the last four days and many remain in serious condition, according to local monitors.

Trying to reach al-Waer’s main hospital has become “fraught with danger,” Muhammad al-Sebaai, a member of the pro-opposition Homs Media Centre said.

“The additional positioning of snipers monitoring main roads has stymied the work of local civil defence teams and paralysed the movement of civilians,” Sebaai told The New Arab, adding that “indiscriminate shelling” has further heightened risks for those already injured in bombardment.

The field hospital in al-Waer is quickly becoming overwhelmed, with those injured often forced to lie in pain in corridors and hallways awaiting treatment, while electricity supplies remain limited.

“In the field hospital there are only six doctors, (who are) unable to cover the basic needs in a neighbourhood of 75,000 people,” Sebaai explained, noting that medical staff were running short of vital supplies including blood bags, syringes, x-ray materials, antibiotics, and painkillers due to the ongoing regime-imposed blockade on the area.

Food shortages are also becoming an issue in al-Waer with residents increasingly forced to resort to diets of rice, bulgar, and bread, with basic food items such as milk, eggs, and meat in short supply, the local media activist said.

In 2011 the violent repression of demonstrations in many Homs neighbourhoods calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down from power lead thousands to seek refuge in al-Waer. The area’s 50,000 population more than doubled.

The Syrian regime has since wrestled back complete control of Homs city – with the exception of al-Waer – and last year announced plans for ambitious rebuilding projects in several districts of the city, none of which appear to have begun.

Although small-scale deals between the Syrian regime and rebel groups in the last two years have seen hundreds of local residents and gunmen leave the area – often in evacuation deals to Idlib province – al-Waer has faced a tight siege accompanied by intermittent bombardment since 2015.

Such tactics have been used by the Syrian regime in other areas – such as east Aleppo – in order to pummel and starve rebel forces and local communities into submission before negotiating settlement deals in its best interests.

A truce negotiated between the Syrian regime and rebel groups last year, calling for an end to the siege and ongoing bombardment on the area in return for a withdrawal of rebel gunmen, has failed to hold.

Speaking to The New Arab, Firas al-Khateeb, a UNHCR spokesman in Syria said that the UN had not been granted access to al-Waer for two months, confirming reports that the transport of certain medicinal supplies, including baby formula, has been blocked by the Syrian regime.

Khateeb expressed hope that the UN would soon be granted access to the area in order to assess growing humanitarian concerns.

“Inter-agency convoys usually involve between 28-32 trucks carrying food, water supplies, hygiene kits, thermal blankets, educational supplies, and limited health supplies,” said Khateeb.

“Yes, sometimes we have difficulties getting all materials approved from the government side … We are calling for a peaceful settlement and an end to violence.”

Sebaai said living conditions in al-Waer were fast deteriorating and beginning to resemble those witnessed in rebel-held east Aleppo before it was retaken by pro-government forces in December 2016.

“The scenario in (East) Aleppo is repeating itself in al-Waer in all its details: a field hospital without medicine, and supplies, a civil defence force without fuel, civilians without food,” said Sebaai.

“The smell of blood is not leaving our streets.”

Image: AFP

Article: The New Arab