Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, have killed more than 500 civilians and more than 2,500 wounded during a week of intense bombardment in the Eastern Ghouta. The victimes include 121 children, says the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Aid groups report several hospitals being put out of action. According to the Syrian-American Medical Society, at least 23 health facilities have been bombed since last Sunday. In some parts of Ghouta, destruction has indeed reached higher levels than those recorded during the peak of the Aleppo crisis in 2016. “The situation is nothing short of terrible” add humanitarian volunteers. “We always attend the same story,” writes the pan-Arab newspaper Al Araby. “the screams of the women and the wounded men, the children terrified in the ruins, the same scene is repeated, only the date changes”.
Humanitarian groups describe a desperate situation in the region. Water, food, and fuel are in short supply. Civilians are digging underground shelters in order to escape the daily bombardment. There are no routes to medically evacuate the sick or dying. “What we’re seeing, is some of the worst violence we’ve seen in more than seven years,” said Dafna Rand, the vice president of policy and research at MercyCorps.
The Syrian government, for its part, has denied targeting civilians and said it is trying to liberate the Eastern Ghouta from “terrorists”, a term it use to describe both the jihadist militants and the rebel groups. Analysts say the regime is preparing a major ground offensive to retake the rebel-held enclave of some 400,000 people, which is surrounded and has been under siege since 2013. The Syrian government has to regain the territory, because it says the rebels are directly endangering the capital.
It should be noted that we’re not talking about north of Syria, Ghouta is far from rebel groups of Idlib, or from Turkish and Iraqi border where the Kurdish army is in action. This time the fighting is located in Damascus, the governative capital. It’s, indeed, an attack on Assad’s power center. However the rebels in Eastern Ghouta are not one cohesive group. They encompass multiple factions, including jihadists, the two biggest groups in the area are Jaish al-Islam and its rival Faylaq al-Rahman.
Russia, the great protector of Bashar al-Assad, has used nine times in seven years the right of veto to block resolutions condemning the massacres of civilians committed by Damasco forces. They suspect that Moscow wants to give Syria time to deal a final blow to forces defending the enclave on the edge of Damascus.
However, today, the UN security council voted unanimously for a month-long ceasefire across Syria to allow for humanitarian deliveries and medical evacuation, in particular to the 5.6 million people in 1,244 communities described as being in acute need, of which almost 3 million are in hard to reach and besieged areas. But there are few signs that a truce, even with a resolution is approved, will hold. The Syrian regime’s envoy to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, appeared to shrug off the authority of the resolution, insisting his government had a right to defend its territory and would continue to “fight terrorism, wherever it is”.
The defeat of Isis strongholds has sharpened competition for control of Syrian territories between regime forces and their Iranian and Russian backers. Unfortunately, Syria is no man’s land, there are a lot military forces managed by different great powers whether it’s Turkey, US, Russia, Iran, now Israel, but also Rebel Groups and Kurds getting into it. Too many strategic interests is the issue and the UN’s slowness to act in Syria is doing the rest.