When Dalal Ahmad heard that the fighters who expelled the Islamic State agroup from the Syrian town of Tabqa were distributing food, she began to run, desperate for any scraps.
After more than a month of heavy fighting, and a siege that left the city in Raqqa province cut off from supplies, Ahmad and others like her in Tabqa are hungry, exhausted and afraid.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and other fighters, seized the town of Tabqa and the nearby dam on Wednesday after fierce fighting.
The city has been ravaged by the clashes, and trash and dead bodies were visible on the streets 48 hours after the SDF announced Tabqa’s capture.
So when one of her neighbours told Ahmad that the SDF was distributing food in Tabqa’s central market, she rushed over as fast as she could.
But on her arrival, she found the “distribution” was nothing more than a few SDF fighters sharing their meals with local residents.
“We’re so fed up and disgusted with ourselves,” she said, her disappointment clear in her voice.
“There’s no water to wash or to clean with.
Everything has been cut off: water, electricity, food,” she said.
“We want humanitarian groups to help us out before we die of hunger and disease.”
Nearby, a woman combed through the remains of an SDF meal, gathering discarded sandwiches and placing them in a box. “The situation in the town is very difficult, particularly because of the major food shortage caused by the fighting and the severing of supply routes after the town was surrounded by the SDF,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.
On another street, residents waited to fill bottles at a water tank, their supply cut by the fighting for the nearby Tabqa dam.
Around them was evidence of the fight for the town, including damaged buildings and the body of a suspected IS fighter lying in the street.
Uncollected rubbish sat in small piles along the road, attracting clouds of flies. In the market, shopkeepers worked to clean the street in front of their businesses.
“There is a lot of illness spreading because of the bodies that are still scattered about, which are starting to smell,” said 40-year-old Abdel Rahman Shakrushi. “There are flies and dirt everywhere, which is affecting our health.”
Abdel Rahman said hundreds of people were still missing in the town, with the bodies of many people killed in air strikes still believed to be under rubble.
IS militants seized Tabqa in 2014, and the town was a key prize for the SDF as they press an operation to recapture the extremist group’s Syrian bastion of Raqqa, 55 kilometres to the east.
The SDF operation was backed by heavy air strikes from the US-led coalition, and civilians trapped in the fighting were terrified. Some were able to escape, and made their way towards the SDF fighters, but others like 20-year-old Muhannad Haj Omar moved around the town looking for safety.
“We were going from place to place, from house to house. We didn’t even know where we were any more,” he said.

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