Estimates range from about 590,000 people to more than a million living in these areas. They subsist on whatever local land they can manage to farm or expensive black market goods. Disease and malnutrition are increasing threats.
A partial cease-fire brokered by the United States and Russia this month included an agreement to safely allow aid into some besieged parts of Syria.
Instead, aid deliveries faced heavy delays as they waited for permission from the government. Then, on Monday, a convoy carrying flour, medicine and clothing into a rebel-held area in western Aleppo Province was hit by airstrikes after the Syrian Army declared the cease-fire over.
At a United Nations Security Council meeting on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry desperately called for a grounding of military aircraft in parts of Syria as a way to save the cease-fire.
The United Nations said that supplies for 40,000 people successfully reached Moadamiya, a suburb of Damascus, on Thursday.
But getting aid into those areas is incredibly complicated. To operate legally, the United Nations and many other aid organizations require the authorization of the Syrian government. The International Committee of the Red Cross, for example, communicates with all armed groups involved — including the Syrian government — to deliver aid to any area, Krista Armstrong, a spokeswoman, said.
And, of course, there are disputes over how the aid should be coordinated. This month, seventy-three aid groups announced that they would stop sharing information with United Nations agencies in Damascus, accusing them and their partners of being influenced by the Syrian government.
According to the United Nations, there are at least 17 places in Syria that are under siege. Groups like Siege Watch, a joint project of PAX and The Syria Institute to collect data on besieged areas, say there are many more throughout the country.
Nearly all the areas are under siege from the Syrian government, which sets up checkpoints, physical barriers and sometimes even land mines to keep people from going in and out.
The Syrian government has evacuated some people from besieged areas under surrender deals made with weakened local opposition leaders.
The terms of those deals are “usually all but dictated to the locals, with their only real alternative being getting bombed,” says Valerie Szybala, executive director of The Syria Institute, a think tank on the Syrian civil war.
In rebel-held Daraya, a suburb of Damascus that had been under siege for four years, council members said they had little choice after negotiations with the government. About 8,000 people, a tenth of Daraya’s original population of 80,000, were evacuated in August by the Syrian government in exchange for surrendering control of their territory.
Rebel fighters and activists were evacuated to opposition-held areas of Idlib Province in northern Syria while thousands of civilians were moved to government-held Damascus suburbs.
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