You probably remember seeing videos of Syrian children, angry and helpless in the face of what looked like hell on Earth. Heart-wrenching clips on social media though captivating, often fail at developing long term attention on the issue. Most of us in India were focused more ardently on a celebrity death rather than the bombings in this Syrian town of Eastern Ghouta. Over the past month, this issue has journeyed from a bombing to a truce and now to an allegedly forced evacuation, attracting various international measures and political comments from around the globe.
All you need to know about Syria
The Syrian conflict is a complicated mess, hard to follow even for experts. Simply put, Bashar al-Assad, the current president of Syria, is locked in an ongoing civil war with Syrian Rebels. The conflict started way back in 2011 when Syrian troops, under Assad, fired upon Arab Spring protestors who were opposing him. The conflict escalated over years, and has attracted international attention and led to the development of a myriad of alliances. The rebels are involved in a continuing armed resistance against Assad. Russia supports Assad and has helped him over the years with military support, not just restricted to air strikes, to weaken the rebels. Although military action was originally supposed to target just the ISIS, Russia expanded the definition to include ‘armed militants’ which is a fluid enough term to include any and every anti-government group in Syria. Mired in such endless protraction and violence, Syrian citizens have lived in a war torn dreadful ruble of confusion, chaos and crisis.
Ghouta is a town in southwestern Syria. It is a delicate location because it is a rebel stronghold and is right next to the Syrian capital of Damascus. Assad, afraid of rebel presence so close to the capital, intends to reclaim Ghouta from these rebels. Eastern Ghouta has, therefore, been under these “reclamation” attacks by Syrian forces since 2013. In 2017, various regions under rebel occupation were declared as de-escalation zones. According to Al Jazeera, the declaration calls for the cessation of hostilities between rebel groups and forces fighting on behalf of Bashar al-Assad’s government in four so-called de-escalation zones in mainly opposition-held areas of the country, with Russia, Turkey and Iran acting as guarantors. Eastern Ghouta was also one of these de-escalation zones. However, little has been achieved out of it.
Bombing and Evacuation
The situation in Eastern Ghouta intensified as Assad’s troops, along with Russian warplanes, attacked on February 19. There have been air bombings and ground level offensives against the rebels, leading to local bewilderment, destruction and death. The offensive continued till March, leading to a mass exile of rebel groups along with many citizens. The offensive has also been linked to an abuse of the de-escalation ceasefires. Russian and pro-government sources have accused the rebels of violating the ceasefire truce by launching mortar shells onto the capital city of Damascus.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, one of the only non-partisan groups in the region, more than 1000 civilians have been killed in Eastern Ghouta since the siege began in February. Those who survived, lost their homes and had to evacuate the city. Rebels, their family members, and civilians had to leave Eastern Ghouta. According to Al Jazeera, close to a 1000 people were evacuated in buses from Ghouta to Idlib, a rebel stronghold town and an additional 8000 are scheduled to evacuate as per a Russia-brokered agreement. Russia also announced daily “five-hour pauses” in the siege (air bombings) to allow further evacuations through a “humanitarian corridor”.
The UN Security Council, which Russia is a part of, voted for a resolution for a 30-day ceasefire, while still allowing operations against said "terrorist" groups. Since March 5, aid convoys began entering Easter Ghouta to tend to the wounded. Humanitarian aid towards Ghouta has had its hiccups, to say the least. According to a UN News article from the last week of March 2018,
“The United Nations and [its] partners on Friday reached the Syrian city of Douma in Eastern Ghouta to complete distribution of food aid after intense shelling cut short deliveries to the war-torn enclave earlier this week.”
A humanitarian convoy, announced by the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria, was postponed by a day to March 9 because of shell bombardment. Syrian troops have also been accused, by the International Committee of Red Cross, of confiscating medical equipment sent to Eastern Ghouta.
Bombings in Eastern Ghouta have had, and possibly will continue to have, a lot of consequences. For one, Eastern Ghouta is no longer a rebel stronghold and Assad’s regime seems satisfied as this siege allows them to distance the anti-Assad resistance from Damascus. Assad even visited Eastern Ghouta himself to congratulate the army. While Assad celebrated the siege, activists have pointed fingers at the brutality of the disproportionate military action. They critique the “hundreds” of civilian arrests and casualties in the bombings. Mass casualties, along with disturbed supply of aid, has made the region fertile with distress. Although it is hard to speculate exactly what can happen, one can be certain of Assad and Russia’s rising confidence after this siege. UNICEF, outraged by the violence unleashed upon innocent children, issued a terse statement. What one can know for certain is that the Syrian conflict is nowhere near conclusion, and the region will continue to struggle to get out of political turmoil and severe civilian distress.
About The Author
Rahul Chaudhary is a literature student at Hansraj College. He is interested in social work and has worked with multiple NGOs and organizations. Having written for online portals, magazines, blogs and more he is well experienced with handling content. His tenacious interest in social issues and art has allowed him to work with organizations like the World Comics Network, Project FUEL and many other education-awareness projects. Still working for various journals and awareness initiatives, he continues to write on issues close to his heart as he explores the world beyond his comfort zone.