Horrific accounts of life in Homs have surfaced Wednesday, as the mass exodus from the besieged Syrian city continues.
Fox News reports that about 1,300 people have fled the city so far, which has been under siege for over 18 months. UN officials announced that of those, 500 were children and 20 were pregnant women; many disabled also accompanied the mass exodus. Syrian government forces have allowed aid to enter the city, survivors and journalists at the scene say - but they have forced most men of fighting age, between ages 15 and 55, to stay behind.
Hunger - not warfare - drove most civilians to leave.
"They couldn't dislodge us with the missiles they rained down on us," 64-year-old Abu Jalal Tilawi said of the government forces. "The hunger defeated us. The hunger, the hunger, the hunger. I left the city where I was born, where my father was born, where my ancestors were born. I was weeping while I was walking."
A Syrian journalist, who spoke to the international press and Fox on the condition of anonymity, told of unimaginable hunger throughout the besieged city. Local vendors allegedly bribed soldiers to let in some food, albeit at radically marked-up prices. A single kilo (2.2 lbs) of rice cost $50, and cracked wheat $40.
Tilawi described that within several months of the blockade, food had dwindled to a minimum. Tilawi and his family survived on a diet of pickled olives and a concoction of "water soup" - water, spices, condiments and some cracked wheat when they could afford it.
"I would see children crying in front of me. They would be on the streets, shaking the men, saying, 'Uncle, I'm hungry, I'm hungry, give me something to eat!'," he recalled. The poorest women allegedly scoured the streets for grass and weeds to eat.
Tilawi recounted that survivors of the siege began to fight viciously over the food the UN has been bringing in to the city - tens of people, women and children, scampering for a bite to eat.
According to Fox, Homs is only one city besieged by the government forces. Over 250,000 people are estimated to be in at least 40 blockaded cities across Syria, according to recent estimates - where a national hunger crisis is being used as a political tactic.
The EU and other Western powers have expressed outrage at the move, and are pushing the UN security council to enact sanctions against Assad for the sieges - though Moscow has allegedly threatened to veto the move.
"We are facing the worst humanitarian tragedy since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994," France's UN Ambassador Gerard Araud said Tuesday. "Starvation is used as a weapon by the regime.'"
The UN has been administering food, water, and medical care in Homs since Friday, when regime forces agreed to let the mission proceed after a series of delays.
Despite the international presence and a call for a ceasefire, however, actual aid distribution has been stymied by ongoing fighting; aid workers and evacuees alike were wounded, and many were too scared to flee the war-torn city.
Journalists at the scene say aid workers have been encouraging civilians to walk between cars to prevent being hit by the flying bullets.
The full evacuation of Homs is due to end Wednesday night. According to BBC News, however, regime forces are considering extending the humanitarian aid for several more days.