Syrian regime surrounds rebel neighborhoods with a message: surrender or starve

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. If you lived in one of the rebel-held communities that ring Damascus in Syria, you might feel like a noose has been dropped around your neighborhood. Syria's regime is putting a squeeze on many opposition strongholds, making it more difficult for residents to move in and out, and get basic supplies like food and medicine. Yesterday, though, the noose was relaxed just a bit in Moadhamiya, a rebel-held community southwest of Damascus. The government allowed some 500 women, children, and elderly residents to leave. Wall Street Journal correspondent Sam Dagher is in Damascus. He says most rebel-controlled areas around the capital are definitely feeling the heat. Sam Dagher: There's been shelling on a town called Daryya, which is next door to Moadhamiya. I saw that with my own eyes, being on the highway and being able to see it form the car. Moadhamiya itself, it seems like there's a tense calm now. It seems like the government is trying to give these rebels in Moadhamiya an ultimatum: "Do you want to surrender, or do you want us to go in and storm the town, and gain control of that way?" So I think there are some tense negotiations now. The government is trying to force these rebels in Moadhamiya to surrender. Werman: Give us a snapshot. What do these neighborhoods look like right now? Dagher: The government has besieged a lot of these areas, and is pounding these areas with artillery rockets and dropping bombs by air on almost a daily basis. It's very dangerous to go into these areas, plus it's almost impossible. I have to be smuggled into these areas. Hezbollah is involved here in Damascus as well, and it's working with the regime on clearing a lot of these suburban areas from the rebels, so they're completely sealed off. There's usually one or two checkpoints through which people are allowed to go in or out. Once you drive around what's called here the flyover that goes around the city -- the highway - you're able to see the bombardment on these rebel enclaves, whether or aerial bombardment or artillery. You hear the explosions, you see the smoke go up in a lot of these areas around the city, so it's a real war in a lot of these areas around the city. Werman: It sounds so checkerboard from one neighborhood to another. How can a city live this way without at some point just getting torn apart? Dagher: It has been torn apart, Marco. It's amazing. You're dealing with two different realities here. I can't get over it myself. I've been here for about a year, and I've seen this situation happen over the past year as the regime has been able to seal off these rebellious areas, and has been able to separate them completely form the city. It's almost two different realities. Werman: It's interesting. You were just talking about getting food and medicine to these neighborhoods, and you've described how, in months past, rebel sympathizers from elsewhere in Damascus would drive by these opposition strongholds and just chuck the grocery bags of food out the car windows, and move on. Is that sort of thing still happening? Dagher: Not anymore, because government forces at the time realized what was going on, so they completely sealed off Moadhamiya. You have to remember, there are other areas as well that are suffering, particularly directly south of the city. There's the Palestinian refugee camp, which is called Yarmouk, and some adjacent neighborhoods like Yalda and Al Hajar Al Aswad, and these areas are completely besieged by government forces. We've heard reports that clerics in these neighborhoods south of Damascus have issued what amounts to religious edicts, fatwas, that allow people to eat cats and dogs in order to fend off the threat of starvation. Werman: When was the last time you were able to get into these rebel neighborhoods and towns, Sam? Dagher: Recently, I was able to get to another area northwest of the city called Qudssaya, and that's a very interesting area because it was restive about a year ago, and the government completely snuffed out the opposition there, and was able to declare it "cleansed" from all rebel activity. The main street -- the market street -- you can see anti-government and anti-Assad graffiti scrawled on shop fronts and walls. Werman: Sounds like despair and disillusionment. Dagher: There's a fair amount of disillusionment and anger with both sides of the conflict. Werman: Wall Street Journal correspondent Sam Dagher in Syria. Thanks for your time.