Special Reports  ::   A special Report on the Siege of Hajar Aswad City in Damascus

A special Report on the Siege of Hajar Aswad City in Damascus

Tens of Thousands of Civilians on the List of Slow Death


Violation Documentation Center in Syria

October 2013

One of the shells that landed among civilian houses in Hajar Aswad, Damascus, 2012





Report Background


The Southern area of Damascus - the area between the two Goutas – is under a systematic deliberate siege, with all its regions and neighborhoods (Hajar Aswad, Yarmouk Camp, Tadamon, Qadam, Asaly, Yalda, Babila, Beit Sahm, Sbeineh, Bowaida, Sayeda Zeinab, Hajira, and Husseiniya). It might be the hardest after the prolonged siege of Homs that has been on for many months now.

Violation Documentation Center in Syria has issued a detailed report on the siege of Mo'adamieh city in Western Gouta in Damascus Suburbs, and Yarmouk Camp in Damascus. It has also made an urgent appeal to all international organizations , on the top of which is The International Committee of the Red Cross for an immediate intervention in order to allow the entry of food and relief and medical supplies to the besieged areas : Yarmouk Camp , Hajar Aswad and Mo'adamieh. This report is also a part of a series of reports issued by the center on the daily suffering of the civilian population in the besieged areas and the real danger that threatens them; that is death out of starvation and disease if not by the daily shelling with all kinds of weapons those areas are undergoing.


Report Methodology

The report depended entirely on the locals' testimonies, especially those involved in the revolutionary activity of journalists, volunteers of the Red Crescent and relief activists, in addition to physicians who work in medical points and field hospitals. The report has also tried to go into details of the intense suffering experienced by people in their everyday activities, especially that this suffering is being associated with brutal military operations in Hajar Aswad by the regime's forces and with a systematic bombing that targets all facilities, especially the infrastructure - in addition to the hospitals and the medical points. Moreover, a direct and systematic bombardment targets the bakeries, the power plants and gas stations. Even schools have been destructed as well as places of worship that have been shelled by the regime's army forces.



The city of Hajar Aswad is located almost in the middle of the southern area. Administratively, it is a part of Damascus governorate. Before the military operations started, it had a population of 600,000 people, most of whom are sons of the occupied Golan; i.e. the "displaced Syrians," who had fled after the 1967's occupation. The city is about 1km2 where most of the houses and buildings are "slum areas". According to the city's residents, the city of Hajar Aswad has been exposed to a policy of deliberate marginalization in the era of successive Syrian governments since 1967.

In addition to the displaced from the Golan, there are Palestinian refugees as well as Syrian citizens from different governorates, on top of which are Daraa, Idlib and Homs. Most of the region's population is low-income people.


First: The Raids that Preceded the Siege:


Hajar Aswad was among the first southern regions that joined the Syrian Revolution as the first demonstration went out on 21-3-2011on Mother's Day, after inviting many activists to demonstrate on Friday. Indeed, more than two hundred activists went on the demonstration- in rejection of Daraa's incidents- chanting for freedom. Consequently, the regime forces arrested several activists arbitrarily for a few days and released them later.


the situation continues till the " Good Friday " on 22-4-2011 , where the city witnessed the fall of the first martyr (a player of a youth team "Police Team") Yaman Adnan Ibrahim Agha( Arabic link), 16 years old , when the total number of martyrs mounted at the end of that day to four martyrs. Incidents continued in Hajar Aswad till July 2011, when the first military storming by the regime forces took place as about 3000 security members and soldiers raided the region and arrested more than 1500 civilians, most of whom were males between the age of 14 and 60, and some children under 18. In July 2012, the first armed action by members of the Free Syrian Army was witnessed, when they began an operation to liberate the Police station in Hajar Aswad, after the police had arrested hundreds of young men, brought militiamen to the neighborhood from pro-regime areas and humiliated the citizens especially during storming the houses.



That operation was the first and the largest actual battle against the regime's forces by members of the Free Army in the areas south of Damascus known then as "Municipality Battle ". Specifically after that, mass displacement civilians started, especially after the regime forces started using helicopters to target the region. On 21-7-2012, twelve martyrs fell by the machine guns of helicopters, and more than fifty got wounded. Ten days later, on 31-7-2012 the Syrian Army raided the neighborhood again with dozens of tanks and thousands of soldiers. During that, thousands of civilians fled the region "temporarily ". Their total number was more than 400,000, most of whom slept in the streets of the nearby neighborhoods waiting for the military operations to end. The media activist, Rami AlSayed (Abu Abdullah), the Director of the Information Office in the Local Council in Hajar Aswad says describing the humanitarian situation at the time:

"During the military operations between the regime forces and members of the Free Army, thousands of citizens fled their homes as the military operations lasted for five consecutive days. Following the withdrawal of the Free Army from the city, the regime forces established several military checkpoints and the majority of their troops withdrew. That was when the siege started. However, after the withdrawal of the military forces, sporadic mortar and artillery shelling began which, later on, became a random shelling by explosive barrels and MIGs, which levied a heavy destruction upon dozens of civilian objects and the infrastructure that increased day after day. "



Attempts to remove one of the ladies from under the debris of the house that collapsed on its residents due to the indiscriminate shelling by the regime's forces in Hajar Aswad, Damascus, December 2012



Second: The Siege of Hajar Aswad

The actual siege of Hajar Aswad was preceded by a very fierce storming by the regime forces. Practically, it was the third storming and it was in the middle of September 2012 when a horrific massacre was committed leading to the deaths of more than thirty martyrs, most of whom were slaughtered by knives (Arabic Link). As for the forces, they were mostly of the Republican Guards who have committed those massacres against the civilians. Then, thousands of people fled, yet in larger numbers this time for only about one hundred thousand citizens remained in the city. The displaced went to the neighboring areas such as (Sayeda Zeinab, Sbeineh and other towns). The regime forces imposed a cordoned off on the city. The raid lasted for more than ten consecutive days, and then the army forces withdrew and stayed at the sides of the city. It was then when the daily bombardment on the city started using all kinds of weapons used usually in international conflicts such as vacuum bombs, rockets, MIGs, in addition to the explosive barrels, rocket launchers, mortar and artilleries shells that were targeted at the region from the mountains where the Fourth Brigade is located in Mo'adamieh, Damascus Suburbs.

In December 2012 the "actual siege" on Hajar Aswad started when the only entrance to Damascus was partially closed until February 2013 when the barrier of the regime's army shut down the road preventing cars and vehicles from passing, which forced the citizens to cross the barrier on foot only. Who ever tried to get out from sideways faced the risk of death due to the dozens of snipers on the roofs of tall buildings. At the beginning, the military checkpoint only allowed the passing of few basic needs (one kilogram of sugar, one dozen of bread, one kilogram of vegetables). That depends mainly on the mood of the soldiers at the barrier, yet in most cases they confiscated all the stuff the citizens had without any justification or reason, simply for stealing and looting the stuff.


In the same context, Rami Sayed (Abu Abdullah) says:

"During the first months of the siege, life was almost normal for two reasons: The first is that most of the citizens were keeping food supplies in their houses which they kept for winter, in addition to the warehouses that contained ample amounts of food. The second reason is that although the military checkpoint did not allow the entrance of large amounts of food, but it was almost enough to stay alive. Later, at the beginning of April 2013, things started to change dramatically, especially after military checkpoint arrested dozens of civilians who were trying to bring relief supplies to Hajar Aswad. We were surprised then on 7/19/2013 corresponding to 15 Ramadan that all entrances to the city were completely closed, and all relief and medical supplies were prevented from passing to the city. That was coupled with a daily bombardment of the city with various types of weapons, which left dozens of martyrs and injured. "

* That was a siege on all aspects of the daily life of the citizens and their needs that made them face death either out of starvation or due to the lack of medicine to treat the wounded and the injured who are exposed to daily indiscriminate shelling by the regime forces.


1 –The Relief Condition:


Unlike other areas, Hajar Aswad lacks agriculture. Because it is a highly populated small geographical area, the citizens depended in the first few months on the food which was stored in the houses. However, the foods run out leaving the people with one meal a day instead of three in the past few months, not to mention that that meal lacked any nutritional value that is usually found in meals because it was just some rice, bulgur or lentil soup, as a result of the lack of other food items, which also led to a dramatic rise in the prices of those materials. rice cost more than 1,000 SP per Kilogram after it was 150 SP only, also sugar cost 1,200 SP per Kilogram after it was 90 SP, bulgur price rose to 1,000 SP per kilogram after it was 50 SP only, and the price of a bread bundle rose from 20 SP to 150 SP and the price of a kilogram of tomatoes cost 120 SP after it cost 25 SP before.


Mahmoud Abu Abbas, the head of the Relief Office of the Local Council in Hajar Aswad and a former member of the Syrian and the UAE Red Crescent says in this regard:


"The crops- that were originally few- constituted of eggplants and zucchinis that have run out completely at a short period of time. And the prices of other materials have double folded. Above all, electricity and other means of energy are cut off so some people now are using "home cook" and they are using diesel fuel instead of kerosene as salt is added to it to increase the inflammation. As for those who do not have a "home cook", they use wood. The city is on the verge of another disaster for all desks and doors in all the schools have been broken to be used in cooking, as well as hundreds of trees. Now, more than 6000 families are threatened by death out of starvation in Hajar Aswad i.e. more than 36 thousand people ". He also adds:


Electricity has been cut off since 12.13.2012, when the regime forces directly shelled the electricity plan- that cost billions of Syrian Pounds- with rocket launchers. And there is no fuel in the city at all.

Most of the children are suffering from dehydration and malnutrition, and the whole citizens became thin after their meals were limited to one meal a day as a result of the absence of food-energy provider foods- such as oil and butter and the closure of all the passages leading to the city. The malnutrition pushed on the parents to make sweets from lentils and sugar syrups "sugar dissolved in water," to compensate for the sugar loss, especially for children.

In less than a month, the city will be experiencing a real disaster that will lead to the deaths of thousands out of starvation, especially children and women, and there will be no difference between the children of Somalia and those of Hajar Aswad.



*The medical situation in Hajar Aswad is not a better one. On the contrary, it is worse than the relief situation due to lack of medical materials and equipment first, and the targeting of hospitals, clinics and field hospitals second:

2 -The Medical Condition:

the medical situation in Hajar Aswad is similar to that in the southern areas of Damascus, especially in the already afflicted Yarmouk Camp, yet what distinguishes the suffering of Hajar Aswad is the lack of hospitals and clinics in the city originally compared to the huge number of the city's population. The suffering exacerbated when the revolution broke out due to the high number of civilian casualties, especially shooting casualties in the first months of the revolution. As the only two hospitals in the city were prohibited from receiving or treating the wounded; they were transferred to secret medical points where they were treated by first aid kits used in such cases.

The two Special hospitals are AlYounes Hospital and Bara'a Hospital, the latter has been directly targeted in October 2012 with missile that led to the complete destruction of its first floor that became out of service from the day. As for AlYounes Hospital, all its cadres have fled except for the nurses. After the second raid in July 2012, the regime forces stormed the hospital and fully burned it which made it out of service too. After those two dates, the remaining medical staffs depended on secret field hospitals and medical points that have been frequently attacked especially by MIGs bombardment, the last of which was three months ago when the field hospital was targeted directly.


Dr. Amer, the External Communications representative in the General Medical Community for Doctors in south of Damascus says on the tragic medical situation in the city:


Nine months after the siege of Hajar Aswad and prevention of entering any medical help of any kind, we had to replace the basic medical equipment by the available non-medical materials; For example, we replaced the "medical gauze" by paper tissues, and we used "soda bottles " instead of" medical flasks used in surgeries", and the serum empty bags instead of blood transfusion bags, although not sterilized and free of " Heparin "that is an anti-coagulant

The prices of "Serums" rose frantically for the bag- if available – cost five thousand Syrian pounds. Field hospitals are almost empty and we no longer can take care of the patients, especially those who are going to have "open abdomen surgeries" as they should stop eating five days before the operation and they need certain amount of serums that are scarce these days.



Dr. Amer says describing the shortage of medical staff:

"The city depends on three doctors only; two general surgeons and one ear surgeon, while the other specialties are missing, although the city desperately needs them especially a bone doctor. As for the missing specialties, they are: neurological, orthopedics, ophthalmology, chest, pediatrician, and most of the other specialties ".

*The Casualties:

Most medical points and field hospitals treat many cases of injuries every day, most of which are resulted from the attacks carried out by the regime's forces on civilian houses causing their residents bone fractures, " broken arteries ", vascular surgeries, laparotomies, intestine interruptions and chest injuries. Doctors stand almost helpless before nerve injuries, where a doctor contacts another nervous doctor and consults him via the Internet. Minor eye injuries were reported in the city that turned into a permanent blindness because there is neither an ophthalmologist nor a treatment. The city lacks an anesthetist, too. Dr. Amer adds describing some cases:


Sometimes patients' cases aggravate after they have the surgeries they needed as many complications occur as a result of malnutrition due to the lack of serums and food after the operation, which worsens the condition of the patients. For example, some of the children who suffer from inflammatory need nutritious food such as natural juice, honey and jam. In the recent period, and as a result of the lack of such materials, parents were forced to feed their children with raw materials "sweeteners" used in making "water pipe tobacco "instead of jam; materials that are originally inedible. There is also a complete absence of children's milk in the city, which can constitute a real humanitarian calamity in the next few days.

The same applies to some cases of anesthesia in which we use expired anesthetization injections, which force us to use three injections instead of one.


An operation room in one of the field hospitals in Hajar Aswad, Damascus.


*Third: Targeting the Civilian Objects under the Heavy Siege:

As mentioned above, the hospitals and the medical points– as few as they are - have been targeted directly by regime forces, which led to their destruction. And recently the regime relied on intelligence to locate field hospitals to attack them, mostly with MIGs. One of the medical points, for example, has been targeted four consecutive times by MIG fighter jets.


* One of the ambulances that have been targeted by the regime forces, Hajar Aswad, Damascus.


1-Targeting Schools:

The massive destruction in Hajar Aswad was not restricted to civilian houses only – estimated by activists by more than 10 % of the total city houses i.e. nearly a thousand houses were destroyed partially or completely, including about 200 houses that were burned completely by the regime forces during the repeated raids for the city - but included other facilities such as schools and educational institutions. The number of schools in Hajar Aswad is more than 30 schools (basic education schools, secondary schools and other institutions), 80% of which have been exposed to direct and indirect shelling by the regime forces according to activists, particularly due to the daily intensive bombing the city has been exposed to during the past few months. The schools that have been targeted are:


1 – Hajar Aswad First School, was targeted in July 2013 with a mortar shell.
2 – Hajar Aswad Second School, was targeted in the same day the First School was targeted as they are next to each other.
3 – Khaz'al Neighborhood School, was targeted by a mortar shell in July 2013.





4 - Martyr Ahmed Za'al Fadel School, was targeted in February 2012 with a mortar shell.
5 - Martyr Mahmoud Othman School, was targeted with a mortar shell in February 2013.
6 - Martyr Awad Awad School, July 2013.
7 - Martyr Muhammad Idris School, was targeted with a vacuum rocket that led to the destruction of other three neighboring buildings and completely destroyed the health clinic in Hajar Aswad.

8 –The Technical Institute for Girls next to the Girls Institute for Drawing and Arts.
9 - Basil al – Assad Junior School in Hajar Aswad.
10 – Hajar Aswad Junior School for girls.
11 - Khaled Saleh Al Hamidi School, was targeted with mortar shells for the second time on 10/11/2012.


2-Targeting Worship Places:

Places of worship in the city, specifically mosques, have also been directly bombarded and shelled by the regime forces daily as a number of mosques have been either shelled or burned deliberately by the army forces. Some of the mosques are:

1 – Mo'az Bin Jabal Mosque, A'alaf neighborhood, was burned by the regime forces on 22.9.2012, then targeted by mortar and artillery shells on10-11-2012


2 - Imam al-Nawawi Mosque, was burned at the beginning of the revolution, and then shelled with mortars the last time on 19/07/2012.


3 - Rahman Mosque, was targeted during bombing the neighboring houses with mortar shells on 19-10-2012.

4 - Hamzah and Abbas Mosque, was targeted by mortar shells in 2012.

5 – Burning the minaret and library of Abu Bakr Mosque by regime forces.
6 - Attacking A'l Yasser Mosque, near the vegetable Market, more than once, especially during the repeated raids.
7 - Miqdad Bin Amr, was bombed in late September 2012 with mortar shells.



3-Targeting Bakeries:


For more than ten months, the bakeries of Hajar Aswad and the southern region in general have stopped working completely due to the lack of their supplying shares of fuel and flour. Also, the Syrian army forces have shelled and destroyed most of the bakeries, some of which are:

1 - Aydi Bakery, has been completely burned in September 2012.

2 – Golan automated Bakery, has been completely burned during one of the raids in 2012.

3 - Qadri automatic Bakery, was bombed by explosive barrels, when many civilians fell martyrs and sustained injury on 13.12.2012




4 - Targeting Public Buildings and Infrastructure

One of the most facilities that has been completely destroyed is the main power station, which supplied, with its adapters, more than 50% of the areas south of Damascus as it was targeted by a missile fired from Qasyoon Mountain, which led to the devastation and destruction of all existing adapters on 12.03.2012. Moreover, the regime forces targeted warehouses by several mortar shells that led to their complete destruction as well. The municipality was also targeted after the fierce clashes between members of the Free Army and the Syrian Army forces. Hajar Aswad Stadium was targeted by mortar shells too on 26-6-2012.


Conclusion and Appeals

Beside the disaster and the human tragedy caused by the siege on the living level, the past few months witnessed the emergence of serious social problems that directly threaten the families of Hajar Aswad and make them vulnerable to disintegration at any moment due to the extreme poverty that deprives thousands of children, elderly and women of the simplest necessities of life in a region that has already been suffering years of neglect and poverty.



VDC in Syria strongly condemns the systematic siege on the southern region of ​​Damascus in general and on Hajar Aswad in particular. It appeals- at the same time- all parties and relevant international organizations for urgent intervention to end the siege and to provide the necessary support to thousands of civilians at risk of starvation. It also calls the International Committee of the Red Cross to hold responsibility and work at full blast to open safe corridors for the introduction of humanitarian aid , and calls for Mr. " Ban Ki-moon ", the Secretary -General of the United Nations to put pressure on all the countries of the Security Council and urge them to hold responsibility in enforcing the presidential statement ratified by fifteen states which demanded the Syrian government to immediately allow aid to pass the borders.




Violation Documentation Center thanks all who contributed to present this report, especially the field activists in Hajar Aswad and the medical and relief staffs.



* An image showing the bombing few meters from a school in Hajar Aswad, Damascus.

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