As close to hell as you can get

Madaya, Syria, courtesy Google Maps
Madaya, Syria, courtesy Google Maps

The UN World Food Program and the International Red Cross/Red Crescent are preparing in the next day or so to deliver about a month’s worth of food and other humanitarian supplies to the people of the Syrian town of Madaya, which has been besieged by Syrian government forces since July and hasn’t received any outside aid since October. It’s part of a deal brokered this week to allow aid into Madaya as well as two predominately Shiʿa towns in Idlib province, Kefraya and al-Fuʿah, that have themselves been besieged by rebels since March.

I use the word “besieged,” even though it’s the year 20-for Christ’s sake-16, because that’s what’s happening. The civilian populations–and they are civilians–in these towns are being starved to death by opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, and I know the phrase “war crime” gets thrown around a lot, by me included, but if anything is a war crime, it’s starving civilian children to death. Estimates are that about 400,000 Syrian civilians are living effectively in siege conditions. About half of them are besieged by ISIS in Deir ez-Zor, and no amount of international wrangling is going to get those maniacs to allow aid to reach them. The rest are being besieged either by the man who pretends to still be Syria’s president or by rebel groups who pretend they’re worthy of running the country in his place. Both theoretically should be more responsive to international pressure, though their actions toward their fellow Syrians show that neither is really capable of governing anything.

Reports and pictures have been coming out of Madaya for a few days now, reports of the dead and dying, pictures of children completely emaciated by hunger and big pots of leaves boiling on stovetops because that’s literally all there is to eat. Less has been seen of the situation in Kefraya and al-Fuʿah, and Bashar al-Assad’s helicopters have been periodically dropping small amounts of aid to the residents there, but the reports from those towns are pretty horrifying as well. I’m putting a couple of the milder pictures I’ve seen below the fold so you can decided whether or not you’d like to see them:

A starving child in Madaya, and (above) children in Madaya eating boiled leaves (both photos via Twitter)

There was a deal reached last September, on paper, that should have allowed the populations of Madaya (and Zabadani) and of Kefraya and al-Fuʿah, to be evacuated from those towns and to friendlier territory. It’s a sign of the senseless brutality of the Syrian civil war that ethnic cleansing is the humanitarian alternative to what’s actually happening. Even that deal has stalled, so people are stuck between starving where they are and being shot by their besiegers if they try to flee.

I don’t have any analysis to offer. It’s clear that almost nobody outside of Syria cares about the human suffering happening there, and even the most powerful people inside Syria–Assad, the leaders of Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra–obviously don’t give a shit either. The big regional actors don’t care–the Saudis would rather see every last Syrian starve to death than negotiate over Assad’s fate, and the Iranians would rather see every last Syrian starve to death than allow that maybe Assad has forfeited any claim to governing his people. And the major international players don’t care–the US is so white-knuckle terrified about ISIS that the suffering and death of tens of thousands of people is considered a distraction, and Russia would just as soon blow these people up as take any steps that might alleviate their suffering. It’s commonplace to blame one side or another, one group or another, for causing this catastrophe, but in truth everybody has blood on their hands over what’s happening in Syria. Some may have more blood on their hands than others, but nobody is clean.

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