The monastery of Mar Yakub, Syria, was the first to deliver humanitarian aid on the 7th of September 2017 to the city of Deir ez-Zor since the siege by ISIS that started in 2014. Deir ez-Zor is the largest city in eastern Syria and the seventh largest in the country, it is located 450 km to the northeast of the capital Damascus on the banks of the Euphrates River ...
.For the last three years the city has been surrounded by terrorist forces and was thus locked out from the outside world. A lot of people starved to death. Others survived on airdroppings from the Red Crescent and by drinking bad water, purifying it with chlorine. The Syrian army opened a road through the desert to Deir ez-Zoron September 7th. That same day the monastery of Mar Yakub sent 5 cars with humanitarian aid to the suffering population.
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In this report we will present to you the humanitarian expedition in two parts. First of all we will go through the chronology of events. We will start the chronology by narrating how we travelled through the middle of nowhere, an abandoned desert road that ISIS controlled for the last 4 years until the army recovered it just 5 days earlier – then we will expound how the actual distribution of humanitarian aid took place; the second part will deal with stories of the people we met at Deir ez-Zor and how they survived this siege.
CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS
A. A. Road to Deir ez-Zor
At 7.20 AM we left Homs (see map above) with 2 ambulances, one truck with 5 tons of potatoes and about 4000 eggs, one truck of medical supplies, another truck filled with powdered milk, oatmeal, pacifiers and baby bottles, a lorry with 6000 bottles of water and one bus with 2 doctors to perform medical aid and about 10 young people to assure the distribution.
Around 10.30 AM we arrived at a checkpoint on the road to Raqqa. There we were stopped. The army told us that we couldn’t continue until the mines were cleared from the entry road into Deir ez-Zor. We waited there until they gave us the OK to go at 4.30 PM. After that, about 100km in the journey, our truck transporting the potatoes and eggs broke down and needed repairs.
Already before the war people didn’t like to venture on the road form Homs to Deir ez-Zor. It’s a lonely asphalted path with no gas stations. If your car breaks down you have to get a mechanic from the closest city. Luckily our car transporting eggs and potatoes was quickly repaired and was able to arrive at Deir ez-Zor one day later.
While driving we noticed a corpse of an ISIS fighter by the side of the road and we also saw some paintings of ISIS logo’s as we passed through.
At about 8 o’clock in the evening we stopped at an army checkpoint where we were able to fill gas. After that the road went from bad to worse; every 200m or so the road was cracked open or had a pit with a diameter of at least 1.5m. We were thus zigzagging in the abandoned desert until suddenly: “bam”... a flat tire. The truck transporting the powdered milk and the oatmeal hit a large rock that was clumsily resting on the road.The entire convoy stopped, multiple keys were brought in, different people tried to unloose the wheel … it was no use – it was impossible to take off the tire. About 12 people surrounded the truck in the darkness of the desert. Luckily we had a full moon. We then decided to leave the truck, empty its supplies and pack them in the two ambulances so as not to waste too much time. The driver would stay at the closest army checkpoint.
The whole operation took about one hour. At 10.00 PM we were ready to go again. A little later the people guiding us warned us saying that we were to approach a very bad dirt road entering into Deir ez-Zor. Upon hearing this we were forced to leave the big lorry with water bottles fearing that it would get stuck in the sand. Of the entire convoy only2 ambulances and the little bus transporting the young volunteers remained. We then ventured into the desert road. We were praying to the Virgin Mary to guide us; going up and down little hills – giving a little gas and then suddenly blasting down the pedal – trying to stay in the tracks of the army jeep going before us. Luckily only one ambulance got stuck – a jeep had to drive back to pull it out. Finally we arrived at a more or less descent and hardened desert road where we had to drive between markings of empty tank shells. Crossing the markings meant going into an unsafe zone filled with mines.
B. Arrival at Deir ez-Zor
At 1.00 AM we finally entered Deir ez-Zor. We were the first civilians entering the city in three years. We were guided through little streets to the general hospital. There we met the director of the hospital who opened for us a corridor of his hospital where we could spend the night. He told us that he hadn’t left Deir ez-Zor since 6 years and that he and a couple of other doctors – because the great majority fled – were doing what they could to help the local population. The hospital was surrounded by ISIS forces but remained a free area during the war. They lack everything. Due to a shortage of medicine and doctors they were often forced to amputate. The doctor also explained that they felt quite abandoned by the outside world but immediately expressed his joy that we had arrived. We thus spent the night there and were immediately faced with the main issue the Deir ez-Zorians have to deal with: the shortage of water. Only every couple of days water is brought through the pipe line system. The water is not clean – people often “purify “it with chlorine. Almost the entire population has kidney stones due the dirty water. Fetching water from the Euphrates is also regarded as “mission impossible”: ISIS terrorists snipe women and children who dare to venture to the river bank.
September 7th – Distribution
At 10.30AM we started the distribution of medical supplies at the general hospital. The doctors and nurses went through the boxes to sort out the bandages from the IV-bags, the fever pills from the anti-lice medicine.
After a half hour we went to the clinic of Khaled Ben Walid in the Qussur area, which used to be very rich before the war. Deir ez-Zor is one of the richest cities of Syria due to its great resources of gas and oil – now every family has been reduced to poverty and starvation. There we distributed for every family powdered milk, oatmeal, pacifiers and a baby bottle. Unfortunately some thugs arrived at the distribution point causing chaos and punching each other. The population would always tell us: “please excuse the people, they are just very hungry”.
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“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace”