As the battle for Damascus' East Ghouta suburb intensifies, civilians continue to bear the brunt of the siege and bombardments.
After spending more than five years under siege, it would appear that Damascus’ East Ghouta suburb is witnessing the endgame amidst renewed ground offensives by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) backed by airstrikes and heavy shelling.
Over the course of the latter half of February alone, the region witnessed some of the heaviest bombardments, with civilian casualties reportedly numbering at hundreds. Even before then, however, the tightening of the siege over the course of 2016 and 2017 and the closure of numerous smuggling tunnels had already put immense strain on the population – estimated to number at around 400,000 – creating a veritable humanitarian disaster.
As is the case with all wars, the majority of the victims here in East Ghouta are civilians. Many of them had already witnessed skyrocketing food prices and worsening living conditions under the siege and the situation has only gotten worse since. Fear of getting hit by bombardments have forced many locals to shut down their businesses or operate them from their homes. However, given the lack of water and electricity at most times of the day, doing any work remains unfeasible .
Although the Russian and Syrian Governments have announced a truce between 09:00 and 14:00 every day, with humanitarian corridors open to allow for the evacuation of the civilian population,many Ghoutans remain sceptical over such promises. As far as they can tell, shelling and airstrikes have gone on unabated, making them wonder if there is any truce here at all.
International organisations have repeatedly condemned the continued bombardment, calling at aid to be allowed into East Ghouta. However, these efforts had only limited success. An aid convoy carrying food for some 27,500 people managed to enter the city of Douma on Monday. However, only after it was stripped of medical supplies, trauma kits and similar material.
Since the SAA launched its ground offensive last week, it has made some significant gains in the region, breaking the lines of the rebel groups Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman. Many observers have already noted the similarity of the situation to that seen in Aleppo City in 2016. The repetition of the outcome of the battle there, which involved the evacuation of much of the population, is a major fear for the residents of East Ghouta who refused to leave their homes and communities through the worst of the fighting and siege.