Last week an image of Syrians and a dead lion — which three men were cutting up while one held the animal’s head — appeared on social media. While the image has not been independently verified, many have been saying that the lion is from Al-Qarya al-Shama Zoo in East Ghouta east of Damascus, an area that has been under siege for months by the Syrian army and whose residents have been reporting food shortages, according to the Independent.
Others have suggested that the men are skinning the lion to use its fur for warmth. Some say that the image is a message to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime because Assad means “lion.”
While the veracity of the image and the reasons for posting it remain mysterious, it is all too clear that the ongoing civil conflict in Syria is taking a harsh toll on its citizens. A group of Syria clerics issued a fatwa last month to allow residents of besieged suburbs and specifically in the agricultural region of Ghouta to eat meat — cats, dogs and donkeys — that is usually forbidden under Islamic law.
More than half of the 2.2 million Syrian refugees are children. Many have fled to neighboring countries like Lebanon and Jordan where they are now living in camps that have been straining their host countries’ resources. A report in the Guardian details Jordan’s efforts to provide an education for thousands of young Syrians:
Around 85,000 Syrians are already registered for school in Jordan, in addition to 21,000 Syrians in refugee camps (compared with 1.3m Jordanians). But 140,000 Syrians of school age are among the 544,000 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan. Most live in urban areas, although about 100,000 are in Zaatari camp, effectively Jordan’s fifth biggest city. Irbid, close to the Syrian border, is Jordan’s third biggest city and is host to more than 126,000 registered Syrian refugees.
At Rufaida school, Jordanians attend from 8am-12pm while Syrians come in the afternoon (12.30-4pm). Last year, 30 new teachers were hired, 36 this year. Double shifts were introduced a year ago to cope with the influx of refugees..
The United Nations has been helping to fund efforts to provide young Syrian refugees with an education; Unicef has been working to recruit more teachers. The real struggle is to get children to go to school at all. Distance is a factor, plus many children have been too traumatized to leave their parents. Others have been forced to work (in supermarkets or cafes or by selling drinks or flowers by the side of the road).
A resurgence of polio in Syria — after the disease had been all but eliminated in the 1990s — has become a further sign of how far the country has deteriorated. 17 cases of the infectious disease have been confirmed. Though an early-warning medical team, EWARN, that monitors areas held by rebels, is seeking to undertake a mass vaccination campaign in northern Syria, wartime politics has been thwarting their efforts.
For all the violence and disruption to their lives that so many Syrian children have witnessed, many students at one school in Jordan show plenty of enthusiasm for learning, the Guardian reports:
Hands shoot up [in a class of 12-year-olds learning English] as the teacher asks for examples of “comparatives” after writing, “the laptop isn’t as big as the old computer” on a green board with a piece of chalk. One after another, the girls stand up to give examples in halting sentences.
At the start of December, a U.N. inquiry reported that there is not just sufficient but “massive evidence” to implicate Assad in crimes against humanity. 44,381 civilians, including 6,627 children and 4,454 women, have been killed as well as at least 27,746 opposition fighters since the conflict began on March 18, 2011, with the arrest of some teenagers who had written anti-regime graffiti on a building in the southern city of Deraa.
We may not be able to learn why a lion is dead in a zoo near Damascus. Even amid talk of removing chemical weapons from Syria, the damage from this war is likely to be felt for too many years.
Photo via Thinkstock