The Syrian government is being accused by the human rights group Amnesty International of committing war crimes against its own citizens in Yarmouk camp in Southern Damascus. Amnesty International’s specific accusation is that Syria’s government has used starvation as a tactic and weapon against its own citizens, noting that at least 128 people have died there from starvation and other hunger-related illnesses (out of 194 total deaths), with at least 60 percent of the remaining population suffering from malnutrition.
Yarmouk camp, which was created in 1948 during the Arab-Israeli war as a haven for Palestinian refugees, had a population as of 2013 of about 180,000. During the escalation of the Syrian civil war, most of that population had fled Yarmouk, but roughly 20,000 residents were trapped because of a siege started at the end of 2012. The residents that are trapped are under constant threat and are without basic living needs. This siege was intensified by the Syrian government in July of 2013 following clashes in Yarmouk between loyalist forces and rebel groups including the Levant, the Nusra Front, and the Islamic State in Iraq. Worsening matters for the remaining besieged population, Yarmouk has been without power since April of 2013.
This revelation is one of the latest in the Syrian civil war, which began in March of 2011 and continues to surge on. Even after three years, there are still new reports of ways in which the government is targeting its civilian population. Before Amnesty’s findings on the use of starvation as a weapon, there were reports of the Syrian government using barrel bombs – a very crude yet highly effective and destructive weapon. Essentially, large barrel drums are filled with explosives along with small pieces of metal. These barrel bombs are dropped from helicopters over neighborhoods and explode on impact, creating large explosions that are capable of wiping out the neighborhoods they land on. The Syrian government’s efforts have been described as systematic and have caused hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes and take refuge in bordering countries such as Jordan, where refugee camps are increasingly over crowded.
International diplomatic efforts have continued to prove essentially futile, with the only exceptions being the agreement for Syria to give up its chemical weapons as well as a more recent agreement to cease fighting and allow aid groups to get humanitarian aid to those citizens in besieged locations, such as Yarmouk, an agreement which did not last long, as fighting has resumed. The 20,000 are still trapped in the Yarmouk camp in southern Syria as the government continues to use starvation as a tactic against its civilians in the area.
Three years have gone by in this conflict, over 100,000 people have been killed, and there is still no end in sight. Any efforts by the West to intervene have been complicated by the addition of extremist groups to the rebels’ ranks. Overall, the rebels are still in dire need of supplies, ammunition, and more importantly, better weapons to effectively combat the Syrian army, however for the United States to supply extremists would be hypocritical. Thus, the United States and the rest of the Western world have stood by their crumbling diplomatic efforts as President Assad’s government continues to add more weapons and tactics to its arsenal and more blood continues to be shed.
Is there any possible way the conflict in Syria could end peacefully at this point? Only speculation is possible at this point, but after three years of continued oppression and indiscriminate killings on a massive scale by one man’s government administration, the odds of a peaceful outcome appear to be slim. As international diplomatic efforts surrounding Syria continue, its government continues to use starvation and other crimes against humanity as tactics against its own civilians.
Opinion by Taylor Schlacter