- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Syria’s civil war has become so dire that some Islamic clerics are telling starving Syrians to eat cats and dogs.

A bad humanitarian situation has turned worse as Syrian President Bashar Assad has escalated a war against rebels, including some with ties to al Qaeda, even as progress has been made on the destruction of the regime’s stockpiles of chemical weapons.

The Assad regime has tightened siegelike conditions around rebel-held parts of the country, including Damascus neighborhoods, its suburbs of Ghouta and Muadhamiya, and the Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees.

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Deprived of food and medicine, many residents are starving and traumatized. Videos shared by activists show images of emaciated children.

The grim circumstances prompted religious leaders to issue a fatwa, or ruling, allowing starving citizens to eat animals normally forbidden by Islam to consume.

Syrian activists said the fatwa appeared to be an attempt to focus international attention on the humanitarian crisis engendered by the 2½-year-old civil war.

The fatwa coincides with the Muslim holiday of Eid al Adha, a festival marked by lavish feasts.

“It is difficult to celebrate when every day children are dying around us,” said Sami Ibrahim, a Damascus-based spokesman for the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

Meanwhile, the Western-backed opposition political coalition suffered a potential setback Wednesday as dozens of rebel groups in southern Syria reportedly rejected its authority.

A rebel commander said in a video that the Syrian National Coalition had failed the revolution, the Associated Press reported. He said he was joined by 66 rebel groups in disavowing the coalition. His claims could not be independently verified.

In September, an alliance of 11 rebel groups, including one with ties to al Qaeda, shunned the National Coalition while calling for an Islamic state.

The U.N. estimates that more than 100,000 people have been killed since the start of the uprising against the Assad regime in March 2011. As the war has dragged on, groups linked to al Qaeda have joined the fight against the regime, which in turn is being aided by Lebanese Hezbollah militants.

Syrian activists say more than 5,000 people have been killed by conventional weapons since the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack on Ghouta that sparked international outrage and threats of military action from President Obama.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Wednesday that its inspectors had visited 11 sites linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program and destroyed “critical equipment” at six.

The Assad regime appears to have become emboldened by a U.S.-Russian deal to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons that makes Mr. Assad a key partner in a process that could last well into 2014.

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