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In Hameh, a Snapshot of Life After a Cease-fire

The civilians’ situation was terrible. Our appeals to save the area were not heard, and we suffered from a severe food shortage.

Written by Aya Hasan Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Hameh, an area in the countryside of Damascus), has witnessed some of the most vicious battles between the Syrian government and rebel forces aligned with the Free Syrian Army (FSA). For the last three years, the town has had to survive with very little food or fuel, as all surrounding roads were closed. Hameh has had a fluctuating two-year-old truce that has broken down repeatedly.

Saber, 25, is a law student and resident of Hameh. He told Syria Deeply about the truce and the area’s fragile state of affairs.

Syria Deeply: How did the regime and the rebels come to the decision to call for a truce?

Saber: After the intense clashes between the Syrian army and the FSA, the regime suggested the truce in our area to ease the pressure on its forces on other fronts in the country. The rebels needed to make a deal because of the daily shelling and the constant lack of electricity, food and medicine.

Syria Deeply: What were the terms of the truce?

Saber: A committee was formed consisting of the sheikhs and elders of Hameh and surrounding areas. It was called the Reconciliation Committee, and it was responsible for suggesting the temporary truce to bring food and medicine into the town.

The FSA and the regime both proposed their own terms and conditions for the truce, but they were unsuccessful at first. But the pressure for a truce increased due to the many displaced people who came to Hameh from different areas of the Damascus countryside. These people numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and they needed food and drink.

This influenced the cease-fire for a short period of time, but none of the parties adhered to the truce. The living situation kept deteriorating, and the committee couldn’t reach clear terms that both sides would agree on.

Syria Deeply: How would you describe the living conditions for civilians in the area during this period?

Saber: The civilians’ situation was terrible. Our appeals to save the area were not heard, and we suffered from a severe food shortage. A few days after the truce’s failure, it was announced that all roads to the city were to be closed; some of these roads are still closed now. Then all kinds of food and in particular bread was prevented from entering the area, and the bakery stopped producing as a result of a lack of supplies. Shops and markets became totally empty, it was truly suffocating. Serious diseases and injuries among children and teenagers such as intestinal infections, hepatitis and malnutrition increased.

Syria Deeply: How did things evolve during this siege, and what was the role of the Reconciliation Committee?

Saber: Things evolved in a negative and unsatisfying manner. We demanded that sick people be let out of the area, and that food and medical supplies be allowed to be brought in.

The Reconciliation Committee held another meeting because the health and livelihood situation had gotten so bad. A basic agreement was made and some roads to the town were opened. The Red Crescent brought food to the displaced people in town, and the siege was partially cleared as they brought food and medical materials, but fuel was not allowed, and many roads were still closed. The truce lasted for almost five months, but things were not stable, markets were not reopened, and the shortage of items was not filled.

After five months, the area was surprised with heavy missile shelling for five straight hours – almost three missiles every five minutes. This shelling disabled all the facilities that had started to function again. The result was the death of six women and great destruction of buildings. Then there was another, longer, siege, and as a result people fled to other areas.

Some mediators from Damascus got involved, and they issued a new truce with sufficient terms for both sides, and food was brought into the area with the cooperation of the Red Crescent again. But until now the deal was not made to open the roads completely, and it’s not enough.

Syria Deeply: How are people of the area living now during the truce?

Saber: People appreciate the truce as a way of escaping death, because they’ve suffered from homelessness and damage. But fuel and building materials are still not allowed in, and the electricity is shut down for 20 hours a day, in addition to the damage to the electricity wires due to the shelling, which remain unfixed.

Syria Deeply: How is the situation of other facilities like schools, hospitals and markets?

Saber: Schools are in a miserable situation due to the lack of teaching staff, so some educated young people volunteered to work in schools without any salaries. There’s also a big shortage of schoolbooks.

As for hospitals, there aren’t any in the area. We completely depend on medical charity, and it’s a very primary clinic not equipped to host surgery. It’s also poor in medicine and lacks specialist doctors.

As for shops and markets, they’re closed and empty almost all the time.

We need a radical solution. It’s very important to open the roads in and out of this place: I think this alone could ease the crisis.

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