Syrian civil war intensifies privation for all

Wed, Jan 9, 2013, 00:00

As fighting flared around Damascus, Syrians inside and outside the country faced increasing suffering and privation due to the winter’s first big storms and shortages of fuel, food and medicine.

Clashes between pro and anti-government factions left five dead in the Yarmouk district of the capital – home to about 150,000 Palestinian refugees – and prompted leaders to call for a ceasefire.

Palestinian residents of the densely populated quarter stayed out of the fighting until December when half of the Palestinians living there fled the violence.

Opposition activists reported fighting in Damascus suburbs bordering the highway to the international airport.

‘On the defensive’

The US claimed rebels have maintained attacks on airbases in the Aleppo area, grounding the air force. US state department spokeswoman Victoria Neuland said the regime is “on the defensive”, while rebels are taking more territory.

Three Syrian army engineers were executed by jihadi group Jabhat al-Nusra in the eastern oil hub of Deir al-Zor, said the Britain-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The World Food Programme announced that one million out of 2.5 million needy Syrians living in the country are not receiving food aid because of general instability and fighting near the port of Tartous, the destination for shipments to the north.

Due to shortages of fuel and flour the price of bread in besieged Aleppo has risen steeply, putting it beyond the reach of many families.

In Jordan’s Zaatari camp, located in the northern desert, Syrian refugees rioted after freezing wind and rains swept away tents. The camp holds 50,000. They attacked aid workers and injured seven as bread was distributed.

Refugees registered with the United Nations have reached nearly 600,000, an increase of 100,000 during the past month. About 151,000 are in Turkey, 135,000 in Lebanon, 128,000 in Jordan and 69,000 in Iraq. Tens of thousands live in these countries without UN assistance.

London’s Quilliam Institute, which tracks terrorist groups, said the conflict in Syria “shows no signs of abating after 22 months”. And it warned that strife could “continue with equal intensity between the rebel groups” if and when the regime falls.

‘Long-term threat’

The institute identified al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, with 5,000 fighters, as “a serious long-term threat to the stability of the country and even the whole region”. The group is led by veterans of the Iraq insurgency and has become the “principal force” fighting the government by fielding its own well disciplined units and infiltrating or mounting joint operations with less structured groups.

The rebel Free Syrian Army and other groups protested when the Jabhat was declared a “terrorist” organisation by the US.

Jabhat al-Nusra’s typical operation is a car or truck bombing and a remote controlled bombings. The group’s objective is the establishment of a puritanical Islamic state in Syria and the Levant.