BEIRUT, Lebanon — Weeping children begged for food and women picked grass to eat as hunger gripped rebel-held neighborhoods of the Syrian city of Homs during a nearly two-year military blockade, according to a rare first-hand account by a man evacuated during a truce this week.
It was ultimately that hunger that caused Abu Jalal Tilawi to flee, along with about 1,300 othersallowed out during the truce.
"They couldn't dislodge us with the missiles they rained down on us," the 64-year-old Tilawi said of besieging government forces. "The hunger defeated us. The hunger, the hunger, the hunger. I left the city where I was born, where my father was born, where my ancestors were born. I was weeping while I was walking."
Tilawi's account in a Skype interview spotlights the suffering experienced by an estimated 250,000 civilians living in over 40 areas across Syria that have been blockaded for months. Most of the sieges are by government forces, aiming to wear down resistance, but rebels have also adopted the tactic in some areas.
Western powers at the U.N. Security Council are trying to push for more sanctions against Syria to punish the government of President Bashar Assad for the blockades, though Russia has vowed to veto a resolution.
"We are facing the worst humanitarian tragedy since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994," France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said Tuesday. "Starvation is used as a weapon by the regime.'
The continuing siege of rebel-held districts in Homs, Syria's third-largest city, is perhaps the longest. But the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Moadamiyah has been under blockade for 15 months. A government siege of Yarmouk, an area on Damascus' southern fringes that is home to some 18,000 people, has been in place for about a year, and activists estimate more than 100 people there have died of hunger-related illnesses and a lack of medical aid.