Thursday 15 November 2018

Children of the Revolution

As UN Security Council approves resolution demanding a 30-day cease-fire in Syria, Dahlia Nehme asks what is next for Ghouta

INNOCENT VICTIM: A wounded child receives treatment at a makeshift hospital in Ghouta last week
INNOCENT VICTIM: A wounded child receives treatment at a makeshift hospital in Ghouta last week

The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution last night demanding a 30-day truce in Syria to allow aid deliveries and medical evacuations. The vote commanded the support of Syrian ally Russia after a flurry of last-minute negotiations.

The resolution comes as warplanes yesterday continued to pound east Ghouta - the last rebel enclave near Syria's capital, - for a seventh straight day. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said warplanes struck Ghouta yesterday minutes after the resolution passed.

"The UN convoys and evacuation teams are ready to go," Sweden's UN Ambassador told the council just before the vote. After the session, many council members urged stepped up efforts to ensure a cease-fire and get assistance to millions in need.

There is no set time for the ceasefire to take effect, but the resolution demands that it be followed immediately by access for humanitarian convoys and medical teams to evacuate the critically ill and wounded.

The resolution states that 5.6 million people in 1,244 communities are in "acute need", including 2.9 million in hard-to-reach and besieged locations.

It calls for all parties to immediately lift the sieges of populated areas including eastern Ghouta, Yarmouk, Foua and Kefraya.

The Security Council authorised one exemption from the ceasefire. It said attacks directed at extremists from the so-called Islamic State group and all al-Qaeda affiliates, including the Nusra Front, will be allowed to continue.

Several ceasefire attempts have quickly unravelled during the multi-sided conflict, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced 11 million people out of their homes.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had appealed during the week for an immediate end to "war activities" in eastern Ghouta. However rescue workers and medics on the ground said the bombing would not let up long enough for them to count the bodies, in what was one of the bloodiest air assaults of the seven-year war.

The fierce escalation has killed nearly 500 people in the past seven days, said a conflict monitoring group.

Residents holed up in basements and medical charities decried attacks on a dozen hospitals. In response, the Damascus government and Russia, its main ally, say they only target militants.

They have said they seek to stop rebel mortar attacks on the capital and accused insurgents in Ghouta of holding people as human shields.

The United Nations says 400,000 people live in east Ghouta, a pocket of satellite towns and farms under government siege since 2013, without enough food or medicine.

Russia has backed Assad since the country's conflict began seven years ago. In 2015, Moscow joined the war on Assad's side, tipping the balance of power in his favour - and despite Russian statements about withdrawing their forces from the theatre of war, they remain an active force in the country.

Syrian opposition activists said that Russian warplanes took part in the past week's bombardment of Damascus' eastern suburbs, forcing many people to hide in underground shelters with little food or medical supplies amid a tightening government siege.

Syrian state media said Ghouta factions fired mortars at the Old City of Damascus yesterday. Insurgent shelling killed one person and injured 60 more a day earlier, it said.

The Ghouta pocket has become the war's latest flashpoint, after a string of rebel defeats and negotiated withdrawals. With Russian jets and Iran-backed militias, Assad's military has restored state rule over the main cities across western Syria.

Insurgents in east Ghouta have vowed not to accept such a fate, ruling out the kind of evacuation that ended rebellion in Aleppo and Homs after bitter sieges.

Russia has blamed Nusra fighters, from al-Qaeda's former Syria branch, for provoking the situation in the Ghouta. The two main Islamist factions there in turn accuse their enemies of using the presence of a few hundred jihadist fighters as a pretext for attacks.

©Reuters

 

HOSPITALS ARE THE TARGETS, CIVILIANS THE VICTIMS

The Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders-supported hospitals and clinics in east Ghouta have seen more than 2,400 wounded and more than 500 dead in four days — from the evening of Sunday February 18 to last Thursday.

This data comes initially from 18 facilities, and then (from last Tuesday) from 14 facilities.

The MSF workers on the ground consider this to be an under-estimate as MSF doesn’t have the figures from all the facilities supported by MSF and because there are other facilities in east Ghouta not supported by MSF who have been receiving wounded and dead.

And there is also the fog of war hanging over the area.

Health facilities hit in bombing/shelling

Hospitals and clinics have been hit, particularly during the first days. This reduces medical care at the time it is needed most.

13 MSF-supported facilities hit by bombing or shelling (seven which are regularly supported and six punctually supported)

4 facilities have been fully destroyed (not operational)

9 facilities have received varying damage, from really significant to minor… They are attempting to continue some services, but are working in very great and understandable fear.

There are reports of other facilities, which aren’t currently supported by MSF, being affected. We can only confirm two of them, which we formerly supported.

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