As the vast majority of the western world makes final preparation for celebrating the Christian festival of Christmas and pretty much the entire world prepares for New Years Eve revelries, there are millions of people who are not going to be in any position to be particularly joyous and certainly, nothing to celebrate. Winter is proving to be particularly bitter in parts of the Middle East this year with snow reported in Jerusalem, Tehran and other locations where this meteorological condition is a relatively rare sight. To employ a Christmas-related analogy, the weather conditions in parts of Syria are merely the ‘icing on the cake’ but bitter tasting fayre this cake would be were it to be real.
The plight of Syrian refugees worsens as the winter winds moan and thousands are forced to shelter in flimsy tents, woefully in adequate as they are against the elements. But even these people are relatively fortunate compared to others of their compatriots. According to Russian news sources, more than 80 civilians in Adra, which is located 20 KM to the northwest of the Syrian capital of Damascus, have been executed by extremist rebels with many others tortured and kidnapped, massacred it seems, by foreign-backed extremist militants while many others were kidnapped to be used as human shields. Syrian army forces are continuing a large-scale operation against al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front and Liwa Al-Islam militants, who captured the town earlier this week. As we know, the war in Syria has raged unabated now for almost 1000 days and in excess of 120,000 men, women and children have lost their lives.
In relation to the events in Adra, according to SANA news agency, around 1,000 militants were in the town when it was enveloped by the army on Friday. The military sources said the “armed groups have performed an execution of civilians” in Adra, so an Arabic correspondent Abutaleb Albohaya, reported from Syria. “For now it’s established that over 80 people were killed in the areas now taken over by the army. Often whole families were murdered,” he was quoted as saying.
The number of executed civilians is expected to rise after army troops manage to recover the rest of the town - which has a population of around 20,000 - from the extremists, the military source added. “Some families were kidnapped in order to be used as human shields in areas where the Syrian army is now trying to free the civilians.” Albohaya observed. Additionally, Iraqi Al-Ahd television has suggested that this is the reason the Syrian army is abstaining from using artillery on Sunday 15th December. Sources also suggested that that the other kidnapped families were moved to the area south of Adra in the direction of the town of Douma, which has been the opposition’s strategic back yard since the start of the Syrian crisis and it is also where the most important rebel fortifications are apparently situated.
In the meantime and as Syrian society teeters on the brink of final collapse after three years of internal conflict, ferocious warfare and economic devastation, the United Nations view the Syrian crisis as the gravest in the history of the organisation and accordingly, they have appealed for some £4 billion GBP for Syria and its neighbouring countries, the biggest ever such appeal for a specific crisis, to aid around 16 million people who are homeless and starving, for the next twelve months. There is, of course no end in sight for this human tragedy.
The Syrian appeal accounted for half of an overall funding plan of $12.9 billion to help 52 million people in 17 countries and is the largest amount that the UN has ever had to request at the beginning of a year. The increasing numbers of internally displaced people and refugees is generating far greater need across all sectors and is severally straining the resources of neighbouring countries. The U.N. sent its first delivery of humanitarian aid by air to Syria from Iraq on Dec. 15 and said it planned to deliver more food and winter supplies to the mainly Kurdish northeast in the next 12 days. It is widely anticipated that the number of Syrian refugees in the Middle East could double during 2014.
U.N. agencies primarily aim to provide food, clean drinking water, shelter, education, health services and polio vaccines to Syrians inside and outside the devastated country. Meanwhile, the price of bread in Syria has soared by 500 percent since its 33-month conflict erupted and it is understood four out of five Syrians were now worried about food running out, while more than half of them were struggling for access to clean water. The costs of blankets too have risen to the extent that a single blanket has a value of around 93% of the average monthly income.
The 19th century carol, ‘In the bleak midwinter’ which was based on a poem by Christina Rossetti during the 19th century will be sung time and again during the various services to be held in the run up to this and all Christmases. In Syria this winter, it is very bleak indeed and frosty wind makes moan for millions of innocent people.