Civilian death toll from hunger, aid shortages rises as Syrian rebels announce plan for spring offensive
At least seven civilians were reported dead Tuesday around Damascus from hunger and lack of medical care while rebel groups announced their plans to launch a "spring offensive" on the Syrian capital, according to Agence France Presse Tuesday.
Medical sources from The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least three people died in the Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee Camp in southern Damascus and four others died in the suburb of Ghouta.
"Two men, one of them elderly, and a young girl died on Monday after a deterioration in their health as a result of lack of food and medicine in Yarmouk," according to the Observatory.
Yarmouk, which is home to approximately 150,000 Palestinian and Syrian residents, has been under regime siege for seven months, with more than 100 people in the camp reported dead due to the limited supply and food flows into the area under the siege.
Aid distributions to the camp vis-a-vis UNRWA were suspended Feb. 8 due to fighting between regime and opposition forces, making travel to and from the area extremely difficult. Though all gunmen have allegedly left the camp, UNRWA has not yet been given permission to resume its aid distributions to the area.
In Ghouta, an opposition stronghold that was targeted during the August 2012 chemical attacks, four people have died due to related shortages of food and medicine. Very little aid has reached the sieged suburb over the past months.
While death tolls mount from hunger and medicine-related shortages, Syria's opposition announced Tuesday that they are planning a spring offensive against Damascus, which allegedly will "include fighters trained by Western forces in neighboring Jordan."
"Daraa (province) is the gateway to Damascus. The battle for Damascus starts from here. For now, we only have guarantees (for weapons) from the countries that support the revolt against President Bashar Al Assad. If the promises are honoured, God willing we will reach the heart of the capital," said Rebel Commander and ex-Syrian army officer, Abdullah Al Qarazi.
Regime and opposition forces have both confirmed that the planned offensive will "involve thousands of rebels" who have been receiving training over the past year from the United States and affiliated Western countries in neighboring Jordan.
According to Qarazi, rebels in Daraa have "made steady progress in recent months" even amidst regime attacks throughout the province, and a coalition among 47 opposition groups has been established in an effort to better coordinate attacks against the regime accordingly.
In response to these growing trends, the regime has "redeployed troops" to the Quneitra front near the cease-fire line with Israel and has increased its shelling attacks on Daraa.
Tuesday's announcement arrives shortly after the second round of peace talks in Geneva between Syria's regime and opposition delegates ended in stalemate with no conclusive progress reported.