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02/28/2013

Starving Syrians fall victim to deadly bakery bombings

Syrian bread line
 Syrian women wait outside a bakery shop to buy bread in Maaret Misreen, near Idlib, Syria in December 2012. As the civil war drags on,  Syrians now spend hours in line every day for a few loaves of bread and petrol at soaring prices. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen, File)

Bread is the staff of life – and in Syria the stuff of death.

For months, the regime of President Bashar al Assad has been pounding local bakeries  to punish suspected opposition sympathizers, regardless of whether they are armed fighters or civilians.

Mainly, they are hungry Syrians desperate for a break in the daily attacks to find food for their families. On Thursday Al Arabiya English tweeted that the regime bombed 86 bakeries last month, according to Moaz al-Khatib, who leads the Syrian Opposition Council.

There’s no confirmation of the allegations. But they come at a time when the UN is raising the alarm that the number of refugees fleeing Syria will soon reach 1 million – many of them heading for the borders because the food supply has broken down and their meager resources are at an end.

According to the World Food Program, millions of Syrians are living on less than subsistence rations. When all else fails, bread is the last cheaply available staple. “A growing number of main breadwinners have become unemployed and soaring food and fuel prices across the country have also exacerbated the situation,” it says. The agency, working with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, is currently providing food aid for 1.5 million people – and the need is growing steadily.

Attacks on the bakeries that are still operating are making the situation more dangerous for those who remain in the country. A Human Rights Watch report last August documented 10 attacks that month alone, calling them “deliberate, indiscriminate and disproportionate.”

Since then hundreds more civilians have died for the “crime” of lining up for bread. Meanwhile, Assad has signalled he may be ready to talk peace with the opposition. But that’s months too late for those who have buried relatives. Bombing and starving his way to a settlement has failed, and evidence of war crimes is mounting. Assad will have no easy way out of the morass of mayhem he has created. While his people are running on empty, the dossiers are already full.

Olivia Ward has covered conflicts, politics and human rights as a correspondent and bureau chief from the former Soviet Union to the Balkans, Northern Ireland, the Middle East and South Asia. She has won both national and international awards, collaborated on two Emmy-winning films and is one of the few journalists to have a war requiem written to her work..


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