The United Nations and the International Red Cross condemns the intensified bombardment of East Ghouta by government forces.
Madness. Hell on Earth. Those are but a few words to describe the events taking place in Damascus’s East Ghouta suburb. Although the suburb, which is the last remaining rebel stronghold within the Damascus metropolitan area, has been under siege since 2013, residents say that what they have witnessed over the past few days is unlike anything they have witnessed.
The renewed offensive on East Ghouta comes after the repeated failures by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). The local rebel factions, consisting of Jaish al-Islam and the Free Syrian Army (FSA)-affiliated Faylaq al-Rahman, have managed to hold on to their holdings despite heavy bombardment and withering urban combat. Having been unable to break into East Ghouta, the SAA spent the past two years eliminating other Damascus-based rebel strongholds in Darayya, Moadamiyah, Qaboun and West Ghouta, effectively leaving the rebel-controlled suburb isolated. In the interim, the SAA also gained victory on a number of other hot-spots, securing a number of strategic positions in greater Idlib, clearing ISIS from Hama and ending the ISIS siege on Deir ez-Zour over the course of 2017.
The bombardment was preceded by the tightened control over trade routes and smuggling tunnels, leaving the suburb starving for months prior. Indeed, the situation in East Ghouta was a humanitarian disaster even before the bombing intensified. Since the resumption of the bombing, however, casualties skyrocketed. It is believed that some 300 civilians died over the course of four days alone.
International Organisations and a number of countries have been stepping up the pressure. The United Nations’ Security Council will be voting on a Resolution submitted by Kuwait and Sweden towards imposing a 30-day ceasefire. The International Committee of the Red Cross, meanwhile, has called for new batches of aid to be delivered, noting that only a small amount of aid was delivered in 2018.
For many observers, the situation evokes the events that took place over the course of the Battle of Aleppo, which also saw the SAA imposing a siege and launching intense bombardments on Eastern Aleppo. Indeed, the resemblance of the situation was noted by both the supporters and opponents of the Syrian Government, with many expecting the outcome to be another “evacuation” agreement that sees East Ghouta emptied out and transferred to Idlib.