Eastern Ghouta: How Did We Get Here?
Despite consistent reports by mainstream media in early 2018 that the Syrian war was over, an offensive in Eastern Ghouta launched in 2018 continues to kill dozens of people a day. Since the Syrian Regime launched an offensive in the area, no less than 1,121 civilians were killed from November 2017 to February 2018 alone.
The small agricultural town of Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of the capital city, is home to over 400,000 people. When the civil unrest began in March 2011, Ghouta residents began participating in the protests and joined the Syrian rebels by expelling from government forces in November 2012. Rebels were able to capture the area on the edge of Damascus, and they entered the Jobar district in the capital city.
After being captured by rebel forces in 2012, government forces counterattacked the area in May 2013, beginning the siege on Eastern Ghouta. Government forces then imposed restrictions on humanitarian supplies to the area while simultaneously striking the area with air artillery.
In August 2013, Eastern Ghouta witnessed the deadliest chemical attacks since the Iran-Iraq war. Government forces launched rockets in the area containing sarin gas that killed over 1,700 people.
Eastern Ghouta came to be controlled by two groups, the Islam Army and Failaq al-Rahman. Each group imposed harsh conditions on the people in Eastern Ghouta, and smuggled goods in the area at the expense of civilians.
The 400,000 civilians living in Estern Ghouta mostly survived on foreign aid, even though getting government permission to provide aid to the areas remained difficult. Since the siege started in 2013, an estimated 427 individuals died from lack of food and medical supplies, including 221 children and 72 women.
Throughout 2017, a series of de-escalation agreements were signed for Syria, with Eastern Ghouta included as one of the four de-escalation zones. The agreements were meant to prohibit fighting in the areas, while allowing humanitarian aid to enter. Russian forces were singled out to implement the agreement.
Finalized in September 2017, Russia brokered a deal as part of the de-escalation agreements with the two controlling groups in Eastern Ghouta, the Islam Army and Failaq al-Rahman. Despite the deal on paper, fighting not only continued, but it intensified between government forces and Failaq al-Rahman, stopping all humanitarian aid to the area.
Food became scarce in Eastern Ghouta, causing prices to skyrocket for civilians. Child malnutrition rates shot up from 2.1 percent to over 11.9 percent by November 2017 according to UNICEF, as families could only afford one meal per day. Reports also showed a 36 percent of stunted growth in Ghouta's children, due to chronic food shortages. It wasn't until October 2017 that government forces allowed the U.N. to send in food supplies to the besieged areas.
The situation in Eastern Ghouta worsened in November, as government forces conducted over 400 airstrikes in the area, bombing markets, schools and houses. Reports found that banned cluster munition were used numerous times throughout the month.
From December 2017 to January 2018, satellite images showed that over 3,800 buildings had been destroyed in Eastern Ghouta. Reports also surfaced that weaponized chlorine was used by government forces. Nearly 180 people were killed in the first two week of January 2018 alone as regime airstrikes continued in rebel held areas.
The offensive of February 2018 started on the evening of February 18th, as government forces began to heavily target the area with heavy artillery and airstrikes in the rebel-held area of Eastern Ghouta. The strikes killed an estimated 94 people in just one day, including 18 children. Russian forces joined the offensive on February 20th, striking rebel held districts from the air.
On February 22nd, government forces called on residents to leave Ghouta and urged opposition fighters to hand themselves over. By the time the order was placed, 128 civilians had been reportedly killed in rebel held areas.
Security Council resolution 2401 was adopted due to the magnitude of fighting in Eastern Ghouta on February 24th 2018 calling for a 30-day ceasefire. The resolution provided a cessation of hostilities and attempted to get the passage of aid into the area.
Despite Security Council resolution 2401, Syrian regime forces resumed bombardments in the area 24 hours later. There is also no record that any aid was able to get into the besieged areas since the resolution was adopted.
On February 25th, pro government forces began a series of ground offences in Eastern Ghouta. Pro-government sources reported the town of Al-Nashabiyah and the villages of Hazrama in Eastern Ghouta were partially surrounded. Reports of government forces targeting Harasta-Arbeen, the rebel held district of Al-Ajami and the village of Hawsh Dawahra also surfaced.
Between the start of heavy fighting in November 2017 up until the escalation through February 2018, the SNHR reported that 1,121 civilians had lost their lives, including 281 children and 171 women. There were more than 18 attacks on medical facilitates, 32 attacks on local markets and 11 attacks on schools. The SNHR also reports that chemical weapons and four cluster munitions were used by Syrian government, and government backed forces.
An evacuation starting on February 27th was announced by Russia, giving civilians a chance to flee during a five hour pause.
Today, the ground and air offensive in Eastern Ghouta continues, with dozens killed everyday. By March 5th 2018, an estimated 35% of Eastern Ghouta has been taken by government forces. 775 civilians have been killed in the last 15 days, and human rights violations continue as the Syrian Civil war enters its 8th year on March 15th.