At least 23 reported dead and hundreds malnourished in the besieged town of Madaya outside Damascus.
Amar, a former law student in the Syrian town of Madaya, tells his story to Al Jazeera’s Samya Kullab.
I was born in Madaya. I lived in a simple, beautiful neighbourhood where everyone knew and loved one another. Our neighbourhood is the first someone passing by Madaya comes across on their way to the town centre.
During the siege, what we experienced has been similar to what all other families in Madaya experienced. We are in a constant struggle to survive. Most of us spend two or three days without food. I’m a grown man, but I weigh less than 50kg. Sometimes it feels as though I’m living in a dream.
I’ve seen children dying of hunger and felt helpless. I’ve watched as my whole world crumbled around me. The people of Madaya don’t have milk, bread or money. And it’s getting colder.
Before the United Nations entered Madaya some days ago, a kilogram of sugar cost $300. I fear the aid is not enough to last us even 20 days. And then what?
But let me start from 2011, the beginning of the Syrian revolution. At the time, I was a law student in Damascus University. I had big dreams of pursuing a good career and making my family proud.
At first, the revolution began as a series of protests; people were demanding their freedoms. Some close friends of mine, who were fellow students and colleagues, participated. They made an honest sacrifice. But then the regime turned on the revolution, turning the peaceful protests into armed altercations by opening fire and killing innocent people.
Some people in Madaya felt forced to carry weapons and defend themselves. They thought they were protecting their honour. But around November 2014, the regime began changing its tactics; it adopted a policy of starvation by besieging our city and carrying out air raids with deadly barrel bombs. I saw whole families die in these raids.
During this time, the price of food began increasing. Because we are situated near the Lebanon-Syria border, Hezbollah was also cooperating with the regime to besiege us from all sides, with a plan to break into the city. The battle began at the start of June 2015 in Zabadani, which neighbours Madaya.
By this time, residents of Zabadani began withdrawing to Madaya to escape the shelling and battles. Madaya was already suffering from a scarcity of food supplies, but with the influx from Zabadani, our population grew dramatically, while our supplies continued to dwindle.
A few months later, the Free Syrian Army in Zabadani agreed to a ceasefire with the regime and Hezbollah. Civilians paid huge amounts of money to be able to leave the town.
I saw a man rummage through garbage looking for a morsel to eat. I looked closer at him and saw that it was my neighbour Toufic, the pharmacist.
My neighbour, an elderly man, paid around $3,000 to be given safe passage out. But most of us did not have this kind of money. In the months that followed, the regime strengthened its siege around the town. Week by week, we watched as our supplies ran out.
It was at this point that the real suffering of Madaya’s residents began. Each day became a struggle to provide sustenance, and heating when it became colder. We couldn’t leave the town because the regime had mined the area surrounding it. Tens of men fell victim to these traps when they decided to take the chance to escape to get food or firewood.
The main concern for everyone became finding a way to provide a few grams of food for their children.
I couldn’t do anything but watch as my family starved – my mother, father, sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts – knowing that braver men who ventured outside the town were either taken prisoner, killed or lost limbs after stepping on mines. Many died from sniper bullets.
The price of food increased more than threefold. When once an item was $2.50, it was now $10. As the blockade intensified, as more people I knew were killed or lost their limbs trying to escape, the prices continued to climb.
We started gathering grass from the ground and cooking it, hoping it would ease our constant pangs of hunger. We ripped the leaves off the trees – beautiful trees that lined our neighbourhood – until there were none left. After a short time, we couldn’t find any more grass to eat. With the coming of winter, a snowstorm hit the region, and the situation now has become very bad.
Some have resorted to eating house pets, cats and dogs and whatever else.
The grass has stopped growing because of the snow. And within the first month of winter, people began to die. There were three or four at first, I remember.
I’d walk the streets and find a man passed out or a woman’s dead body in front of my eyes. I couldn’t do anything about it. I saw a man rummage through garbage looking for a morsel to eat. I looked closer at him and saw that it was my neighbour Toufic, the pharmacist. I barely recognised him. People grew desperate and fought each other over crumbs or accused others of hoarding food while others starved.
I’ve seen infants die because their mother could not produce milk to nourish them.
The feelings I have, I can’t describe with words. No matter how much I write, I can’t describe what we’ve been through.
Earlier during the siege, people began selling their household appliances and furniture. Washing machines, TVs, refrigerators, all to be able to afford food. But all of these, even if it could be sold, would only bring between 100 to 150 grams of food. I know someone who sold his entire house for just five kilograms of food. You might find this unimaginable, but it’s true.
How did it come to this? Why doesn’t anyone care? We ask ourselves that all the time. I no longer think about the future. What future is there to think about? I remember the young university student I was and I no longer recognise him.
I am tired now. We are struggling to survive but it does not seem that anyone cares.