Besieged Damascus suburb shelled despite 'truce' with army
Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have tightened the siege against the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh, while shelling them with mortar fire since Friday, residents of the town reported.
The only official crossing out of Moadamiyeh was closed by the army, while a separate road on the eastern side of the town was blocked by piles of sand by pro-Assad forces, leaving some 40,000 residents totally cut off without food or medical supplies.
Residents of Moadamiyeh, which include fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), have been observing a shaky truce with the government for the past two years but reasons for the latest attacks remain unclear.
"The representative of the regime in the truce deal himself, Hasan Ghandour, does not know why we have come under attack," Dani al-Qappani (a pseudonym), a media activist in the rebel-held town, told Middle East Eye.
"Members of the (pro-Assad) Fourth Armoured Division say they are still observing the truce, by not joining the pro-regime militias who are shelling us. But they (army) say they cannot stop them (militia)," he added.
Different pro-Assad groups
According to Qappani, pro-Assad forces surrounding Moadamiyeh include the Republican Guards to the west of the town; the air force intelligence on the eastern side; the National Defence Force also on the eastern side; the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) on the south east; as well as local army and police forces north west of the town.
Qappani noted it's the first time that fire from these groups has reached the two square kilometres in the town centre which is densely populated with civilians.
Pro-government media outlets, however, reported that the army was shelling armed groups in Moadamiyeh.
Locals who were turned back by army guards at the town's checkpoint reported an increase in sectarian verbal abuse by those who manned the checkpoints, adding that the soldiers vowed vengeance for the deaths of their comrades in the nearby town of Dariya as well as elsewhere around the country.
Qappani stressed that civilians in Moadamiyeh are calling for humanitarian help.
"There are many cases which need urgent medical treatment but people are not allowed access to hospitals outside Moadamiyeh. In one case, a two-month-old child died waiting at the army checkpoint," said Qappani.
"There is little food, less clean water, no electricity. Even smuggling in food or medicine has become impossible. All of this without counting the four deaths and dozens wounded after the regime shelling started," he added.
Activists inside Moadamiyeh and the government frequently accuse each other of not abiding by the truce's terms.
Moadamiyeh was amongst the first towns to join the pro-reform uprising against the rule of Assad which began in March 2011 and was inspired by the Arab Spring, but soon morphed into a civil war following a bloody government crackdown on protestors.
The town was also one of the sites hit by chemical weapons in August 2013, which Human Rights Watch said "available evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government forces were responsible for" – a charge that Damascus denied.