By Stephanie Miller
In what is likely the bloodiest onslaught of offensive military force in the seven-year war for Syria, the province Eastern Ghouta has finally fallen under the control of Assad regime forces.
Since launching the operation in mid-February, the regime has steadily gained territory, cutting off rebel movement and supply lines between northern and southern Ghouta in a move that “should accelerate the defeat of terrorists in the area” according the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency. Analysts believe that it is only a matter of time before Syrian forces reclaim the remaining territory situated outside Damascus, which CNN reports is one of the last rebel-held areas in the country.
In early March, medical facilities supported by Doctors Without Borders in Eastern Ghouta confirmed the reception of “more than 4,800 wounded and more than 1,000 dead over the two-week period from February 18 to March 4.” These numbers were reported as an underestimate, and did not include information from all facilities, as “fifteen out of 20 facilities supported by MSF in East Ghouta have been hit by bombing or shelling during the recent escalation.” Doctors Without Borders urges an immediate ceasefire to allow for the import and transportation of medical supplies, as well as the ensuring of both warring factions that they will not target civilian areas and medical facilities.
The Guardian reports that the current bombardment is taking place despite the unanimous vote of the U.N. Security Council, which called for a month-long ceasefire in Syria to allow for evacuation. Effective immediately, the ceasefire would have temporarily protected the besieged enclave and the 400,000 rebels who are currently trapped within the stronghold.
Although the initial exodus of civilians has reached over 50,000, safe passage is not guaranteed. For some, leaving home is not even a viable option. In an interview with Al Jazeera, a computer science student named Majed talked about continuing his studies through an online university, only to be forced to withdraw himself from his classes after the onslaught became too intense. “Warplanes, helicopters, mortar attacks – everything that you can imagine is being dropped on us by Russian forces and the [Bashar al-Assad] regime. We are expecting something like [the atomic bombings of] Hiroshima and Nagasaki to happen so they can kill us all and finish us off.”
One issue the populace has been forced to address is how and where to bury their dead. Bayan Rehan, the head of the women’s office at Douma’s Local Coordination Committee, reported that “after three days of being unable to bury our dead, we’ve had to put them in mass graves.” A spokesman for the Syrian Civil Defense, or White Helmets, said “the cemeteries are very close to the front lines and they are also full. So people have resorted to burying their dead in public parks.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported the use of chemical weapons and starvation tactics by the Syrian regime. At least 19 civilians were killed in Bashar al Assad regime’s air strikes and attacks in besieged Eastern Ghouta on March 20, 2018, alone, and the death toll is expected to continue to rise. Now that the government is back in control of over 80 percent of the area and have splintered the region into three zones, the rebels are facing their worst defeat since the 2016 battle for Aleppo.