- Two babies died of starvation in one weekend in Syria's Ghouta
- Images of the emaciated Sahar Difda have shocked the world
- A new media campaign is attempting to draw attention to the 350,000 Syrians under siege in Eastern Ghouta
- With insufficient food and medicine, there could be many more children like Sahar
by Rosie Alfatlawi
Harrowing pictures of an acutely malnourished month-old baby just hours before her death shocked the world on Monday, bringing to light the four-year siege of Syria’s Eastern Ghouta.
Keen to keep international attention focused on the fate of the reported 350,000 civilians trapped there, activists have launched the hashtag “Assad Besieges Ghouta” in English and Arabic.
A statement by the “media activists of Eastern Ghouta” was tweeted by Firas Abdullah, a photographer in the city of Douma.
The document urges participation in “our new media campaign” to “employ all civil, media and diplomatic means to end the blockade of Eastern Ghouta”.
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It is not clear exactly who the “media activists of Ghouta” are, although al-Dorar al-Shamia website described them as “legal, media and human rights activists”
The hashtag hoped to create a “Twitter storm” on Monday evening to raise awareness of the situation.
Two babies, including Sahar Difda whose image gained so much attention, died of malnutrition in the province over the weekend. They are the youngest victims of the siege which has prevented sufficient food and medicine supplies reaching residents.
In recent months, reports suggest, the blockade on the rebel stronghold has been tightened. “Since the beginning of the siege in 2013, the Eastern Ghouta has never experienced a situation this harsh," the activists’ announcement claims
At least 80 cases of children with severe malnutrition were reported by regional head of medical services for a Turkish NGO, Yahya Abu Yahya, who spoke to AFP. Meanwhile thousands of others have nutritional deficiencies.
Deliveries of humanitarian aid to the area have been prevented both by the government and, indirectly, as a result of in-fighting between rebel groups. Exploitation of the situation by local merchants has also pushed up prices.
According to the U.N., the last aid convoy entered the area on Sept. 23, which was the first since June.
The situation has escalated despite Ghouta being included as one of four de-escalation zones in an agreement brokered by Turkey and Russia last summer. The deal was meant to ensure the arrival of aid to the area, and the opening of commercial routes.
In their statement, the media activists slam the regime’s inaction on these promises.
There are also reports of continued government bombardment of the area, despite airstrikes being explicitly forbidden under the de-escalation zone terms.
Around 3.5 million Syrians live in besieged areas, mostly implemented by Bashar al-Assad's regime. Under the fourth Geneva convention, the deliberate starvation of civilians is considered a war crime.
Despite the suffering of millions during Syria’s civil war, it receives relatively little coverage in the international media. The #AssadBesiegesGhouta tag hopes to change that.
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