A Dutch Roman Catholic priest has launched a desperate YouTube appeal for help for Homs, describing conditions in the besieged Syrian city as “unbearable” with people starving and in need of medicine.
“The biggest problem is hunger because people can’t find anything to eat,” said Father Frans van der Lugt, whose identity was confirmed to AFP by the Jesuits from the Netherlands and Flanders association.
“Muslims and Christians, we’re living under difficult and painful conditions, we suffer greatly but most of all from hunger,” the 75-year-old priest said, apparently addressing the camera from the altar of a church.
The Syrian regime on Sunday agreed to allow women and children safe passage from besieged areas of rebel centre Homs but activists said they first wanted aid supplies and guarantees that those leaving would not be arrested.
The Old City of Homs has been under siege since June 2012 after rebels there rose against the regime, with an estimated 500 families living with near-daily shelling and the barest of supplies.
The priest was surrounded by yellow signs on sticks during the short video: “Eight people starved to death”, “100 people in need of urgent operations”, “250 families about to die of hunger” and “dying of hunger is more painful than from chemical weapons”.
“We can’t go on like this, we need real help and our problems must be addressed, we’ve been trapped for a year and a half,” said Van der Lugt, who has lived in Syria since 1966.
The priest is also a trained psychotherapist, according to the website of the Jesuits from the Netherlands and Flanders association.
He has set up an agricultural research centre and farm that in the past hosted around 40 youths with mental problems.
“We love life and we don’t want to die or to drown in an ocean of death and suffering,” the priest said.
Activists say hundreds of families have been holed up for nearly 600 days in a handful of Homs’ rebel-held districts.
They come under near-daily shelling, and activists there say they have run out of most food supplies, and that residents have little more than olives to survive on.
Seeking to shed light on their circumstances, activists in Homs have launched a campaign, putting up yellow signposts similar to those surrounding the priest, inscribed with slogans describing life in the besieged areas.
“For two years, 300 children have had no schooling,” reads one, according to photographs shared by Homs-based activist Yazan.