Syria’s opposition-in-exile National Coalition came under pressure Monday for the rising number of deaths of people due to freezing temperatures, as anti-regime activists in Idlib province demanded action by declaring an open-ended “hunger strike.”
Pro-opposition media outlets reported that the protest, announced by refugee camp officials in the province, was aimed at the international community as well as Syrian political groups, blamed for failing to act as camp residents undergo subfreezing temperatures and flooding.
Bassam Abu Mohammad, from the Orient camp in Idlib province on the border with Turkey, said the open-ended protest would continue “until officials from the Coalition and other groups come here and examine the tragic situation of the camp after the storm that we just experienced, and offer solutions.”
One of the officials whose presence was demanded by Abu Mohammad was Suheir Atassi, the head of the Coalition’s Assistance Coordination Unit, responsible for relief efforts.
Atassi later announced that beginning Tuesday, her group would step up efforts to get heating supplies to camp residents, and issued a statement detailing the amounts spent thus far on emergency relief aid on other fronts, such as blankets, clothing, food and health supplies.
“It’s the right of all Syrians to protest and express their anger, after the international community has abandoned them for four years,” she said. “But it’s also painful for me to hear about a hunger strike in a camp in Syria, where we are working day and night to get what we can to them.”
The Coalition said a total of 27 people died due to the recent storm, which is significantly higher than the total of 11 fatalities claimed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based activist group that monitors the conflict.
The Observatory said five more people died of freezing temperatures, bringing to 11 the country’s death toll in a weeklong storm battering the region – seven children, including twin baby girls, were among the dead, it said.
Among the latest deaths was a two-day-old girl in the Firdous district of the city of Aleppo whose twin sister was reported dead Sunday.
“Both twins have now died because of the cold,” Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman said.
The other new deaths included three boys: in Beit Sahm, south of Damascus, in the eastern town of Al-Bukamal, controlled by ISIS, and in southern Syria’s Deraa province.
The fifth additional death was in Deir al-Zor province, where a man died because of a lack of heating, the group said.
All the victims lived in rebel-held areas, where shortages of food, heating and medical equipment are especially severe.
In Lebanon, at least two Syrian refugees died last Wednesday due to plunging temperatures.