I have just got off a Skype interview with Quasi Zakarya, a rebel spokesman in the besieged and starved town of Moadamiyah, Damascus, as well as a local doctor who would only give me his first name, Omar.
According to both, yesterday the regime allowed the “evacuation” of 800 civilians from Moadamiyah, which has been subjected to a terror-famine for months. Those let go included women, children, adult males, and the elderly; their number estimated at 1,800. However, as was the case with previous evacuations, as many as 300 men between the ages of 15 and 50 were arrested upon their flight from the town. Some were taken to the Fourth Armored Division’s Mezze Airbase in Damascus, while others were detained in Qudsaya in a facility the regime claimed to have requisitioned to provide medical treatment and dispense badly needed food to civilians. “Instead, the civilians there are being interrogated,” Zakarya said.
“We also have information from officers inside the Assad army that they are now being forced to join the army or the shabiha,” he added.
The fate of children, who were arrested weeks ago by the regime during the first evacuation of Moadamiyah, is still unknown, Zakarya said.
Omar, a medical doctor, told me that six children and three women have so far died of starvation in the town where only 8,000 people remain. “We don’t have any medical supplies to treat those suffering from malnutrition. There are no antibiotics, no blood bags, and no oxygen tanks. Sometimes we can provide oxygen for the sick using a very simple hand-pump called an ambo. We don’t even have bandages. We use bedsheets.”
Zakarya and Omar said that they themselves are subsisting on olives and tree leaves, making either “weird” salads or soups. This has been their diet for at least four months.
As with previous regime-orchestrated evacuations, Mother Agnes Mariam was enlisted yesterday as the liaison. “She is the big, strong media face for the Assad regime,” Zakarya said. According to a “very reliable source inside the regime,” the Catholic cleric meets daily with Ali Mamlouk, the head of Syria’s National Security Bureau, and Jamil Hasan, the head of Air Force Intelligence who was rumored to have been killed in August 2012 by the Ahfad al-Rasul Brigade of the Free Syrian Army. Al Dunya, the Syrian state television network, denied the assassination the same day. “Yes, he is still alive,” Zakarya said.
The FSA spokesperson also said he has obtained an audio recording that compromises the nun’s involvement with Assad’s security apparatus. He plans to release it soon.
Mother Agnes, meanwhile, has earned a notorious reputation for denying the Houla massacre perpetrated in 2012 and for claiming that the Assad regime’s use of sarin gas on the people of Damascus – including Moadamiya’s – last August was “staged.” She was meant to embark on a speaking tour of the United States and Canada starting on October 24, coordinated by Paul Larudee, an activist affiliated with the International Solidarity Movement, the Free Palestine Movement, and now a pro-regime group called the Syria Solidarity Movements. Zakarya said Mother Agnes was definitely in Moadamiyah yesterday: “She will fly tomorrow.”
Indeed, according to the calendar of the nun’s booked engagements posted at the Syria Solidarity Movement website, her first stop will be in Tucson, Arizona on November 1.