Middle East

'Eating grass to survive' in besieged Homs

A child clears damage and debris in the besieged area of Homs on 26 January 2014 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Old City of Homs has been under siege since 2012

Syrians in the besieged Old City of Homs are now so desperate for food that they are eating "anything that comes out of the ground, plants, even grass", resident Baibars Altalawy has told the BBC.

Mr Altalawy, 24, described life in parts of Homs under government siege for over a year-and-a-half.

He said those under siege had had to rely on supplies of food, medicines and fuel left over from the time the siege was imposed - and they had now run out.

"If we don't die from bombardment or snipers, we die of hunger or the cold," he told the BBC via Skype from Homs.

Mr Altalawy said those under siege were desperate for peace talks in Geneva to result in safe routes out - but said that if the regime really wanted to help them, it would have done so already.

There are 13 districts, including the ancient Old City, which are "totally under siege", he said.

"There are families, women, elderly, injured people, and a lot of the elderly are in need of medicines because they have chronic illnesses.

"There has been no help arriving to us, all we see is daily clashes. The rebel fighters who are in the besieged areas are doing all they can to stop the regime forces from entering."

"We are now eating anything that comes out of the ground, plants, even grass. We pick it, then cook it with some water using wood because we have no gas...

"These shrubs and grass that we're eating causes illnesses, such as indigestion and fever. A few days ago an elderly man died within six hours from eating the grass and shrubs."

The unrelenting bombardment to which the besieged are subjected is also a cause of great suffering, with the regime forces "directly targeting civilian populated areas", Mr Altalawy told the BBC.

"Many have died because we don't have the equipment or medicines to save their lives. What little medicine we have has expired, but we have to use it.

Little hope

"The medical situation is no better than the humanitarian situation. When a person is injured, all we can do is pray to God to alleviate his pain because we can't treat him or even give him food," Mr Altalawy said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Parts of the city have been reduced to rubble, but civilians in besieged areas cannot get out

As well as those under siege, 700,000 people had been displaced by the siege, the journalist said - many living in public buildings and tents outside the area under siege, waiting for the right conditions to return to their homes.

Mr Altalawy said the people were desperate for a good outcome from talks under way in Geneva, but had little hope they would get it.

He said the government was simply engaging in "political manoeuvres", and if they had wanted to establish safe routes out for civilians or allow food in, they would have done so already.

"We are on the edge of death, and there is no way to get the injured or sick out. And anyone who tries to escape the siege, we know that he will be killed for sure."

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