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No Food Until the Crimes End: Syrians around the world on hunger strike for Idlib

Syrian Refugees | 2019-07-19 21:00:00
No Food Until the Crimes End: Syrians around the world on hunger strike for Idlib
Syrian activists and their supporters around the world have been on a rolling hunger strike to protest the Assad regime and Russia's continuing assault on the Idlib province, which has left hundreds of people dead and displaced over 350,000 people since it began in April 2019.

The campaign began on June 10 when Brita Haj Hussain the former head of the Syrian opposition's Local Council of Free Aleppo, frustrated by the international community's lack of action over Idlib, announced that he was going on hunger strike.

A refugee in France since 2016, when eastern Aleppo fell to Assad regime forces, Haj Hussain travelled to the UN's Geneva headquarters to demand that the bombing of civilians in Idlib province stop. 

Other activists, inspired by his actions, also went on hunger strike. Haj Husain stayed without food for 20 days. The activists stressed that their goal was not to put their health or their lives in danger but to draw attention to the suffering of the people in Idlib.

Airstrikes by the Assad regime and Russia against Idlib province are ongoing. On Tuesday, regime airstrikes killed 11 people in the town of Maar Shureen in the south of the Idlib province. 

Refugees from the bombing have been forced to shelter in olive groves because there is no room for them in already overcrowded camps.

A total of 109 people across the world have taken part in the hunger strike, going without food for a number of days.

The official spokesperson of the campaign, Nisreen Traboulsi, said that 45 people were currently on hunger strike. The campaign is open-ended and includes Syrians and non-Syrians such as American graphic artist Cory Strachan and German author Annika Reich.

Traboulsi has been outside 10 Downing Street – the residence of the British Prime Minister – for the past two weeks with other hunger strikers and protesters. She went on hunger strike for eight days before another activist took over from her.

"Syrians in universities have taken part in the campaign because they've discovered the power of peaceful protest. People passing by in the street have been really supportive. We've spoken to MPs and government employees who've walked past, and anti-Brexit campaigners who also protest outside Downing Street have also expressed solidarity with us," she told The New Arab. 

The UK's Universities and Colleges Union has also sent the hunger strikers a letter of support.

Hala Halabi, a Syrian student who has been in the UK for six months has been on hunger strike for seven days. 

She said that she will carry on for as long as her health permits, adding, "As Syrian survivors, it is our responsibility to tell Syria's story to the world. I know that the international community won't change its policies for a few hundred people taking part in the strike. But we need to tell the world that there is still a country called Syria, there is still a cause, and there are people still being killed after eight years and you're still quiet."

As Syrian survivors, it is our responsibility to tell Syria's story to the world... We need to tell the world that there is still a country called Syria, there is still a cause, and there are people still being killed after eight year .

Halabi's sister was detained by the Assad regime six years ago and her family have no news of her whereabouts or why she was arrested. 

Hundreds of thousands of people have been detained since 2011, often in horrific conditions. The Assad regime has issued death certificates for hundreds of these detainees since 2018 and human rights groups have reported that detainees have been tortured to death.

'Syrians no longer in control of Syria'

Attending the protest outside Downing Street was Fayez Sara, a former member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, whose son was killed in 2014 while in Assad regime detention. 

He told The New Arab, "The British government and other democratic governments around the world should act to stop the slaughter in Idlib. 

"As peaceful people, we're not asking for military intervention, but we need a strong political intervention to at least implement international resolutions. 

"Today, neither the opposition nor the regime are in control of the political situation in Syria. Other countries have to agree to a political solution because they are all present in Syria. The Americans, the Russians, the Turks, the British, the French, the Israelis, and the Iranians are all there."

Medical facilities and hospitals are being bombed, what do they have to do with HTS? HTS are now being used as an excuse to bomb people in Idlib

Most of the Idlib province today is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a group which formerly had ties to al-Qaeda and is still considered to be a terrorist organisation by the US, Russia, and most of the international community. 

However, Sara said that moderate armed groups were still present in the Idlib province, pointing out that the Russians had recognised them and spoken to them at peace negotiations in the Kazakh capital Nursultan (previously known as Astana).

"What is important to us today is protection of civilians. HTS are a terrorist organisation but it's not them or other armed groups who are being targeted.

"Medical facilities and hospitals are being bombed, what do they have to do with HTS? HTS are now being used as an excuse to bomb people in Idlib. Refugees are being killed in the olive groves where they're sheltering. This is why we are protesting," he added.

The Syrian conflict broke out in 2011, following the bloody suppression of peaceful protests by the Assad regime. More than 500,000 people have been killed since then and millions displaced, mostly as a result of regime bombardment of civilian areas.


The New Arab
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