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Heroes of Our Time: Defenders of Deir ez-Zor

Defenders of the Syrian city under 4-year ISIS siege are the real heroes of our time which is exactly why the West couldn't care if they were all slaughtered tomorrow

Is there a more unambiguous example of present-day heroes than the soldiers defending Deir ez-Zor from ISIS massacre and oppression?

The siege of the city on the Euphrates is now the longest in modern history, longer even than the 900-day siege of Leningrad in World War II.

The force surrounding the city belongs to one the most sickening and oppressive regimes of the last one hundred years.

The city survives on food parachuted from the air. It's only other link with the outside world is via helicopters which sometimes land to bring in reinforcements and evacuate the severely wounded.

If there ever were people who deserved a toast in their name it's the civilians and soldiers who have been encircled for four years now but continue to defy their would-be conquerors.

Yet at the same time, the very same western elites which are normally so intent on finding causes, villains and heroes in exotic countries are at best completely ambivalent to the outcome in Deir ez-Zor.

The same guys who destroyed Libya and occupied Iraq can not find it within themselves to hail and root for Syrian soldiers defending 100,000 civilians from a gang of slavers. Recently they even added the Syrian commander of city's defences to a sanctions list. But then, that in itself tells enough. A hero that is greeted by the narcissist, cruise missile-happy powers that be in the western capitals is extremely unlikely to actually be one.

A brief report describing the conditions in the encircled city from back in May:

Syria Direct spoke with three civilians inside the besieged capital who explained that the challenges residents face depend on the half in which they live.

The western half, home to the vast majority of encircled civilians, live under the constant threat of an Islamic State advance and shelling of residential areas. In the eastern half, which is relatively calmer, residents are cut off from airdropped humanitarian assistance and municipal services that remain available in the western districts.

“I don’t know how we are still alive,” Ibrahim, a resident of the western al-Joura district, told Syria Direct on Monday. “My children and I are living through a tragedy.”

In his home in al-Joura, Ibrahim and his children fill up bags to store water because it only comes once a week.

The government-run electrical grid has been offline for years and the city runs on generators to power its infrastructure.

Food and other essentials are regularly airdropped by Syrian and Russian planes and distributed by SARC. However, there is not enough to meet the needs of the western districts’ 93,000 residents, and what does land is not always intact.

“At this point, SARC is trying to reconstitute food commodities that had been partially damaged during previous airdrops…in order to meet at least some of the growing needs,” according to a January 28 report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). 

Ibrahim, trapped in the west’s al-Joura district, said food often arrives from the air damaged or dirty.

“A kilo of dirty rice, gathered [off the ground] because the bag ripped during the airdrop, costs SP6,000 [$11],” he said.

The 42-year-old al-Joura resident tells Syria Direct that humanitarian assistance is regularly commandeered by military personnel and then sold to residents, a claim echoed by several pro-opposition websites.

“Don’t be surprised when I tell you that many are living off the grass that grows on the side of the road,” Ibrahim said.

Civilians, already struggling with the siege economy, must also cope with regular attacks by Islamic State fighters, positioned just a few kilometers away.

“There’s a possibility that at any given time [IS] will take control of the city,” Abu Yahyah, a second resident of al-Joura, told Syria Direct on Tuesday. “This is the biggest nightmare in the minds of Deir e-Zor’s residents.”

On Monday, IS militants launched mortar shells into the encircled districts of al-Joura and al-Qasour, killing 15 people and injuring dozens more, state media agency SANA reported the following day.

Abu Yahyah was preparing food with his family to break their Ramadan fast when a mortar shell fell near his building.

“We began to hear the sound of people screaming, and we knew that civilians had been hit,” said the 37-year-old.

Despite poor municipal services, IS-SAA clashes and a lack of food, al-Joura resident Ibrahim says he is thankful that he is not isolated in Deir e-Zor’s eastern neighborhoods.

“We are living like animals, but, as we see it, this life is a peaceful paradise compared with what is happening in Harabish,” says Ibrahim.

Fortunately, for the first time in years the prospect of breaking the siege is now in sight. At this pace, Deir ez-Zor will be relieved well before the year is over.

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