Since the chemical attack in eastern Ghouta on August 21 – the incident that sparked the U.S. call for action – 1,543 people have died in the fighting, according to the Violation Documentation Center (VDC), a clearinghouse for statistics and human-rights abuses in Syria’s war. A large part of the center’s credibility stems from the fact that it keeps a relatively conservative count, verifying each case with a name and detailed cause of death. It’s a difficult task in the fog of Syria’s war, handled by the center’s teams on the ground.
We spoke with Bassam al-Ahmed, the Istanbul-based spokesman for the VDC.
Everyone is talking about a military strike. What’s happening on the ground?
The war continues. After the attack, the regime kept on shelling the Ghouta area. Also in Idleb there was an attack that killed more than 40 people in shelling. Every day there are more than 100 people killed. There are women and children killed by conventional weapons, and we’ve seen more people detained.
What is the state of the battle now?
There has been shelling in Aleppo, Deraa and Deir Zor; regime shelling has been at the same level, or more intense, over the past week.
In Aleppo the battle between the regime and rebel groups, plus Islamist groups, go on every day. In Aleppo, Idleb, Deraa, Homs, Deir Zor, Damascus suburbs, it continues. In Latakia the fighting has nearly stopped. In the Kurdish areas there are clashes between the PYD [a Kurdish militia] and Islamist groups. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Ahrar as-Sham, and Jabhat al-Nusra are fighting against them.
Inside Damascus is quiet, but all around Damascus there is fighting.
What is going on with food and medical supplies – basic necessities?
In Homs it’s very bad. In Aleppo and Idleb it’s not so bad, because they’re close enough to the Turkish border, so the people and the opposition can get supplies. Deraa as well, as it’s close to Jordan. But Homs is very bad. It’s under siege and Hezbollah is at the border. Supplies are minimal, and there are hardly any basic supplies like bread, rice, sugar. There is very little food. People cannot eat. In some places, like in the Damascus suburbs, people are starting to eat the leaves off trees, because there’s not enough food.
How has the situation changed because of the risk of a U.S. strike?
There has been waiting, to see what will happen. The regime has started using schools and civilian locations as their operational bases. That’s what we’re hearing from the ground; we haven’t directly documented it. A friend was in the hospital a few days ago, and the hospital told him that during a strike they won’t be able to receive civilians, they will only be able to receive those injured from the [regime’s] Syrian army.
Are civilians preparing for a strike?
They are collecting food and water, reading the Koran. They are very afraid. We told them to stay away from military and security bases, and we advised them to stay underground when there is an attack. We have been told the attack would happen in the middle of the night. So we gave them that advice, as a warning.