- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2014

Syrian government authorities committed war crimes when they ordered the blockade of a neighborhood in Damascus, starving civilians who were trapped inside, Amnesty International accused.

“Syrian forces are committing war crimes by using starvation of civilians as a weapon of war,” Amnesty’s Middle East Director Philip Luther said, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.

About 200 people in the neighborhood of Yarmouk have died, and 128 of those died from starvation, or from diseases that started over their starvation conditions, the group said, The Associated Press reported. The blockade was put in place a year ago, in support of President Bashar Assad.

“The harrowing accounts of families having to resort to eating cats and dogs, and civilians attacked by snipers as they forage for food, have become all too familiar details of the horror story that has materialized in Yarmouk,” Mr. Luther added in the Deutsche Presse-Agentur report.

Amnesty said the siege of Yarmouk was “the deadliest of a series of armed blockades of other civilian areas, imposed by Syrian armed forces or armed opposition groups on a quarter of a million people across the country.”

Mr. Assad’s forces started blockading the area — dominated by Palestinians — to root out rebel fighters and to punish those civilians who gave safe harbor to the rebels. Several tries to obtain a truce between Mr. Assad’s supporters and Yarmouk authorities that would have cleared the way for food deliveries to civilians have failed, AP said.

Some 17,000 to 20,000 civilians are thought to remain in the camp, Amnesty said.

Syria is officially home to nearly 500,000 Palestinian refugees, and 63 percent of them have been displaced by the conflict in Syria since it broke out in March 2011, DPA reported.

U.N. agencies say that some 2.4 million Syrians have fled the country and 6.5 million are internally displaced, out of a total population of 22.4 million.