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SYRIA – Eastern Ghouta: What is happening and why
  • by Amy Touzell
  • February 3, 2018

Nearly 400,000 civilians are trapped as Syria’s government and its allies pound the besieged Eastern Ghouta district, a suburb of Damascus, with air raids and artillery.

Ground forces have been deployed in an effort to remove the rebels who have controlled the enclave for five years. 

Syria: Who controls what?

Here is what is happening – and why:

What is happening?
  • Siege: Eastern Ghouta has been under siege by the Syrian government since 2013, and is the last rebel stronghold near the capital. 
  • Chronic food and medicine shortages have devastated Eastern Ghouta with severe cases of malnutrition.
  • De-escalation zone: Turkey, Russia and Iran agreed in 2017 to designate Eastern Ghouta a “de-escalation zone”, in which Syrian and Russian fighter jets were expected not to fly.
  • Relentless bombing: On Sunday, February 19, Syrian forces backed by Russian warplanes escalated the offensive on Eastern Ghouta with a relentless bombing that killed hundreds of people within days. 
  • The bombing, which Amnesty International said amounted to war crimes, has damaged or destroyed six hospitals and medical centres across the city, residents say.
  • UN resolution: On Saturday, February 25, the UN Security Council – including Russia – voted in favour of a resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire “without delay”.
  • Ground offensive: Also on Sunday, Syrian forces launched a ground offensive targetting areas on the edges of Eastern Ghouta to make it easier for their ground forces to advance. 
  • As of Monday, February 26, Syrian forces have “not been able to take an inch of territory” in Ghouta, Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr reported. 
  • Government forces have allegedly used mortar shells, barrel bombs, cluster bombs, and bunker-busting munitions.
  • Chlorine gas: Syria’s Civil Defence rescuers, also known as the White Helmets, said victims in Eastern Ghouta were showing symptoms “consistent with exposure to toxic chlorine gas”.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described allegations of gas use “bogus stories”.
How many casualties?
  • As of February 26, the death toll in the past three months has exceeded 700 civilians in Eastern Ghouta, Anadolu’s news agency reports.
  • This includes 185 children and 109 women.
  • Syrian government officials say “terrorists” are using civilians as human shields.

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Story Al Jazeera News

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