Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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March 1, 2014

In Syria, government pursues local cease-fires

(Continued)

With little hope of breaking the siege, the town west of Damascus agreed in late December to the government's terms. Since then, conditions have improved, and some residents who fled have returned. But the government hasn't lifted the siege. Rather, it permits food shipments to enter in small batches, a tactic that allows the authorities to maintain their leverage over residents.

"The siege wasn't broken, they still have their tanks and troops and checkpoints," said Qusai Zakarya, an activist from Moadamiyeh who recently fled to Beirut after being held by authorities for 17 days. "Everybody who wants to go in and out should have their permission. It's like a prison."

He said authorities stopped food shipments into Moadamiyeh this week after the rebels refused to hand over all of the weapons the government demanded, and for siphoning some of the aid for residents to families from the nearby town of Daraya, which is still under government siege.

Daraya provides a stark example of the price of rebuffing truce overtures. For weeks, government helicopters have conducted a brutal aerial campaign to devastating effect, pounding the suburb with massive barrel bombs — large containers packed with fuel, explosives and scraps of metal.

For rebels, the cease-fires are a particularly bitter tactic because Syrian officials paint the "reconciliation committees" as peace makers.

"It's a submission strategy," said a rebel in the besieged neighborhood of Mleiha who goes by the nom de guerre of Abu Mansour.

While Mleiha has held out so far, Abu Mansour said he understands why some neighborhoods opt to accept the government's terms, even if they are unfavorable.

"The people are tired. They will do anything to let in food," he said. "I'm not talking about rebels. I'm talking about people: the barber, the grocer, the housewife. They are the people who are blockaded. They don't have water. They don't have food. They have no communication with the outside world. There's nothing."

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