More than half a million people in rebel-held suburbs to the east of Damascus are facing imminent starvation, after the Syrian army broke through rebel lines last week, separating people from the agricultural land that was the area’s breadbasket. The people of East Ghouta have survived a three-year siege thanks to produce grown in fields near their homes — and now that they have lost that territory they face a grim fate, similar to other besieged, and starving, parts of Syria.
President Bashar al-Assad’s army and its allies capitalized on infighting between rebel groups in East Ghouta to break through their weakened defensive lines, on May 18. Advancing forces captured six villages and hundreds of acres of farmland in the southern sector of East Ghouta that had been the suburbs’ lifeline, a local opposition official said.
The land, known for its wheat and barley harvests and fruit-bearing trees, is “East Ghouta’s breadbasket” and “was the most important factor in softening the siege” that the Syrian regime has imposed on the suburbs since late 2012, a member of the local council in Marj, adjacent to the farmland, said.
If rebels prove unable to reverse the Syrian army’s advance, “it will turn into a massive humanitarian disaster,” added the council member, who requested anonymity for safety reasons and spoke via WhatsApp.