‘We used to ride swings here’: ISIS siege turns Deir ez-Zor's parks into cemeteries (VIDEO)
It's a scene repeated throughout Syria but shocking to an outsider. Citizens of Deir ez-Zor, which have been besieged by Islamic State since 2014, forced to convert most of their green spaces into extensive burial grounds.
“The park was vivid like a forest, now it has become a cemetery for the martyrs who were killed by the mortars of treason. Not only this park, but the parks of Moualemeen, Methelji, Muathafeen, all of them became bare and were turned into cemeteries,” says a local man standing in the middle of what used to be a park in the area of Jura to RT’s Ruptly video agency.
All the trees in Jura were cut down for fuel years ago. What remains is an open space with identical rows of hundreds of graves. However unsafe, children still come here to tend the headstones, pay respects to dead relatives or simply play in what remains a communal area in the city.
“My friends used to play in the park with swings, now all of them are targeted with mortars,” laments a child, who has seen half of his childhood wiped out by war.
Serving as the administrative capital near Syria’s border with Iraq, Deir ez-Zor is a key strategic outpost for Damascus – loyal to the government, with an effective fighting force stationed at the adjacent airbase.
But it is also a desirable target for Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists. Over the past two years, it has cut off not only the roads, but power supplies and telecommunications, leaving its citizens struggling and vulnerable in isolation.
Food deliveries has dwindled, leaving Deir ez-Zor reliant on air drops from UN and Russian planes. Citizens have to dig their own wells. There is no electricity to power the water grid. Malnutrition and mass outbreaks of disease have become common and the city’s population has fallen from 300,000 in 2011, to an estimated 125,000 now.
IS’ setbacks elsewhere have made the terrorist group more desperate and determined to turn the screws here. Earlier this year, it launched a large-scale assault. The government is now trying to make inroads into a region that is still mostly controlled by jihadists. It is reporting successes, but after six years of war and over 400,000 deaths, much needed relief for Deir ez-Zor might still be a matter of months away.