By Sam Adams
At least 1,500 lives have been lost and the death toll still climbs in Eastern Ghouta. Syrian Regime forces along with the backing of Russian air support began targeting the rebel held enclave, directly east of the capital Damascus on February 18.
The combination of blitzkrieg style attacks from the air and the movement of ground forces continues to suffocate the population. Chemical weapons and the use of napalm have been reported by Al Jazeera, while humanitarian efforts on the ground struggle to stem the waves of destruction.
On Friday, March 23, the Syrian Civil Defense said that 37 victims burned to death via a napalm bomb. An underground shelter was the target during the midst of a so called pause to the violence. Napalm and the use of chemical weapons have been banned for decades as activists and several Western nations condemn the Assad regime, as well as Russia for their part in human rights violations.
In recent days the Syrian Army has been making massive advances, splitting the rebel enclave into three separate pockets. The northern most pocket, controlled by Jaysh al-Islam reached an agreement with Syria’s key ally Russia to allow a pause in the fighting as well as opening corridors for civilians to flee the war zone.
BBC News reported a Russian military spokesman saying he expected no less than 13,000 people to flee Hamouria, a city where the Syrian government and allied militias had broken rebel lines and opened up civilian corridors. The southernmost of the splintered pockets of rebel territory was not as lucky, as the government continued its relentless assault.
As those who were able or willing to flee made their escape from Ghouta many left family, friends, and their former life. New Straits Times quoted a women fleeing the enclave saying “We left our home, our livelihood, our farms”, later adding she also left behind two of her sons as well as her three daughters, “I don’t know where they are, we left them in another basement”.
Civilians have been forced en masse to retreat underground into basements and shelters to avoid regime targeting and bombing, at time, in vain. In response to the opening of corridors rebel fighters and leaders have lauded the safe passage of civilians. BBC Newsquotes one fighter from Faylaq al-Rahman saying, “We don’t want anything other than for the civilians to be safe, and whatever happens to us happens. We don’t know what will happen”.
Outside a checkpoint near Douma for fleeing civilians, citizens were far more wary of the supposed corridors of safe passage. Some even called for rebel groups to leave the area in hopes that the regime would then end its assault on their homes, according to the New York Times.
In Douma and elsewhere there have been countless obstacles for fleeing civilians, as attacks have barely subsided despite the Russian brokered ceasefire. These attacks include: government barrel bombs, air strikes, and rebel snipers turning on civilians fleeing rebel held areas.
Hope emerged for the trapped Syrians on Thursday, March 15, as aid from the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent arrived, according to Al Arabiya. The aid convoy, which consisted of twenty-five trucks containing enough food aid for 26,100 people over a month’s time, was a dire need for the fractured and starving enclave. Food and medical shortages are rampant as farms are destroyed and medical facilities are cut off from lifesaving supplies.
Merciless attacks on Ghouta continue as civilians are continually caught in the fire while hiding and fleeing. The situation for rebels in the enclave continues to diminish as attacks intensify and civilian casualties are sure to rise. Additional food and aid convoys are slated for arrival, as the population of over 393,000 suffers in war. Time is ticking for the people of Eastern Ghouta as the eighth year of the Syrian Civil War rages around them.