Eastern Ghouta: A Man-made Disaster?

Eastern Ghouta: A Man-made Disaster?

By IndraStra Global News Team

Image Attribute: Eastern Ghouta, bombarded afresh on Sunday, has been a scene of a unremitting human suffering for years. Hamza Al-Ajweh / AFP

Image Attribute: Eastern Ghouta, bombarded afresh on Sunday, has been a scene of a unremitting human suffering for years. Hamza Al-Ajweh / AFP

More than 500 people have been killed and 2,500 wounded in a week of the bombardment (began last Sunday) of the Eastern Ghouta enclave near the Syrian capital, Damascus. The dead included more than 120 children. Eastern Ghouta is one of the last pockets held by rebels who have been fighting to topple Assad since 2011, the start of Syria’s seven-year civil war.

The latest attacks include a ground offensive that began hours after the UN Security Council urged a 30-day truce "without delay". Do note, the language specifying that the ceasefire would start 72 hours after the adoption was scrapped, replaced by "without delay," and the term "immediate" was dropped in reference to aid deliveries and evacuations. Besides that, the truce demanded by the Security Council does not cover militants from Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and the Nusra Front.

The UN Security Council, which is made up of 15 countries including the UK, has approved a deal to stop fighting for 30 days there, to allow aid deliveries and medical help. But air strikes began again soon after the ceasefire vote took place in New York, activists said.

For three days, the UN Security Council was unable to pass a resolution demanding a halt to hostilities. Washington blamed Russia for stalling it. Russia is a key ally of Syria, was accused by the United States of using its position on the UN Security Council to stall ceasefire talks, before eventually agreeing to the resolution on February 24 (Saturday).

The Syrian regime said an intense air campaign on rebel-held eastern Ghouta that has been underway since last week was aimed at al-Qaeda forces and their allies. Meanwhile, rebel groups in the area fired mortars into Damascus last week, causing dozens of deaths and injuries, Syrian state-run media SANA reported.

Last week, a major conference was held on the Middle East in Russia — The Valdai Discussion Club. It was attended by two foreign ministers - Russia’s Sergey Lavrov and Iran’s Javad Zarif along with the deputy foreign ministers of some Middle Eastern countries.

"The conclusions that can be made following the two days of debate are as follows: Russia is standing strong on its positions and is serious about its intention to settle the Syrian conflict through international institutions, alongside supportive formats like the Astana process and the Sochi congress. But Moscow is deeply concerned by the activities of the US in Syria.", wrote Maria Dubovikova, President of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub).

She further added, "Russia initially blocked the United Nations Security Council resolution on a ceasefire in Ghouta, mostly because of its doubts about the intentions of the US and its allies. Russia also stood firm on the exclusion of terrorist factions, such as Al-Qaeda and Faylaq Al-Rahman, from the ceasefire. The tendency to present Al-Qaeda-linked groups as merely militants or rebels started last month and has gained momentum. "

However, the speech by Bashar Assad’s media advisor Bouthaina Shaaban made everyone feel that Damascus is far from understanding the real situation and is absolutely unwilling to negotiate.

"We should go on fighting any foreign invaders on our land, whether it's Israeli, American or Turkish," Shaaban said at the Valdai Discussion Club's Middle East Conference. She noted that those countries launched an attack against Damascus right after it managed to free the country of terrorists.

Signaling the war remained a top focus of world leaders, the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin and French and German counterparts Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel spoke by phone and discussed the ceasefire’s implementation.

Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri, whose government backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said Tehran and Damascus would respect the U.N. resolution. However, speaking at a defense gathering in Tehran on February 25 (Sunday), according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency - "Parts of the Syrian outskirts that are under the control of terrorists are not under the ceasefire, and clearing operations will continue there."

The two main rebel groups controlling the enclave — Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman — welcomed the UN Security Council demand but vowed to fight back in case of renewed attacks.

According to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley - “As they dragged out the negotiation, the bombs from Assad’s fighter jets continued to fall. In the three days, it took us to adopt this resolution, how many mothers lost their kids to the bombing and shelling?” 

“We are deeply skeptical that the (Syrian) regime will comply,” Haley said. 

With reporting by Arab News, CNN, Financial Times, Reuters, and Sputnik.