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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Syria’s Moadamiyah: The hope of then, the despair of now

When the Assad regime responded to popular calls for government reform in 2011 with brutality previously unimagined by residents of the countryside of Damascus, Moadamiyah, which had been known for its olive groves, was one of the towns that were hit hard by the Syrian government’s attempts to regain control after rebel forces took over the area in November of 2012. Located 6.2 miles southwest of the capital city of Damascus in an area known as western Ghouta, Moadamiyah is administratively part of the Darayya District and was reported to have a population of 52,738 in 2004.

Moadamiyah, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus Countryside, Syria; Credit: M7ET.COM

By April of 2013, regime forces had managed to surround the area and the assault on the town had become an all-out siege intended to force those who remained to surrender or starve. On July 28, 2013, the government launched a new offensive in the area that resulted in fierce fighting and led to the death of Abu Aref Alayyan, a key rebel leader. The following month, on August 21, Moadamiyah was one of the areas hit with sarin gas by the regime. By the time a Wall Street Journal reporter managed to enter the town in October of 2013, all of the food supplies had run out and the population had dwindled to an estimated 12,500 residents and rebel fighters.  But even as the siege continued to stretch them to their limits, the rebels were able to maintain control of Moadamiyah for three more years.

Under the regime’s control, Moadamiyah has devolved into a thriving outlet for the manufacture and distribution of drugs such as Captagon with the supervision of leaders affiliated with the Fourth Division of Assad’s militia

On October 19, 2016, Assad regime forces finally regained control of Moadamiyah when most of the rebels accepted the regime’s offer to allow them and their families to relocate to the liberated area of Idlib in northern Syria. At the same time, more than 2000 residents were also transported by buses to other areas according to the terms of the surrender agreement. By the end of October, not long after coming under the full control of the Assad regime, approximately 3000 more residents and rebel fighters and their families who had originally rejected the offer to resettle in the Idlib countryside, also choose to leave the area.

Fast forward to almost seven years later and it is easy to see why so many residents chose to leave their homes. Under the regime’s control, Moadamiyah has devolved into a thriving outlet for the manufacture and distribution of drugs such as Captagon with the supervision of leaders affiliated with the Fourth Division of Assad’s militia which played a major role in the siege of the town and the displacement of its residents.

To the dismay of those residents who chose to remain, Assad’s military leaders have been exploiting the close proximity of the town to the living quarters of regime forces and their officers to promote drugs among the locals, including school and university students, with the aim of corrupting the fabric of their once stable society and looting what little money is still available in Syria’s failed economy.

areas of Western Ghouta such as Moadamiyah, which had been fully functioning civil societies during the years they were liberated, have now become the most prevalent areas for the production and distribution of narcotics due to their close proximity to the Lebanese border with its areas that are controlled by Hezbollah

Local residents report that evidence of widespread drug trafficking for the purpose of promoting drug use among Moadamiyah’s youth can easily be found in tobacco and hookah shops, market stalls, street kiosks, and some cafes under the facilitation and sponsorship of Fourth Division officers who collaborate with local elements to facilitate the sale of narcotics.

Sadly, areas of Western Ghouta such as Moadamiyah, which had been fully functioning civil societies during the years they were liberated, have now become the most prevalent areas for the production and distribution of narcotics due to their close proximity to the Lebanese border with its areas that are controlled by Hezbollah and the abundance of locations in that part of Syria that are controlled by Iranian and Shia militias.

Chemists and pharmacists in the western Ghouta area have also been enticed and intimidated by Fourth Division officers and their local partners into participating in the production of hashish and narcotics which is carried out in specialized laboratories located in the towns of Qalamoun and Wadi Barada on the Syrian side of the Lebanese border.

“the Syrian regime never cared about the lives of Syrians when it unleashed the power of the armed forces, army, and mercenary groups upon them, killing and destroying tens of thousands of civilians and cities.”

Kholoud Helmi

And the extent of the depravity of those who are systematically corrupting the youth in the area knows no bounds as local reports have previously indicated that the Lebanese Hezbollah militias are collaborating with the Fourth Division to promote the use of hashish and narcotics among teenagers and school students in the areas of western Ghouta, even to the point of forcing some middle school students along with their older high school peers to engage in the promotion and trafficking of drugs in their schools in exchange for providing them with drugs that feed their own addictions.

Kholoud Helmi, a Syrian journalist and human rights defender who was originally from Darayya in western Ghouta, told Syriawise that “the Syrian regime never cared about the lives of Syrians when it unleashed the power of the armed forces, army, and mercenary groups upon them, killing and destroying tens of thousands of civilians and cities.”

Kholoud Helmi; Credit: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for HBO

“It will not be deterred by the destruction of the young generation residing in Syria as it seeks to increase its control over a people who have lost their minds and further enhance its budget which was exhausted due to war and economic sanctions,” Helmi continued, adding that “It will not be deterred by the future of a country it contributed to destroying with everything it has.”

“Syrian youth are paying a high price for Assad’s oppressive war which is currently draining what remains of the Syrian people,” Helmi concluded.

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