Monday 23 April 2018

Ghouta crisis: Assad regime now targeting funerals as locals struggle to bury dead

President Bashar al-Assad. Photo: AP
President Bashar al-Assad. Photo: AP

Raf Sanchez

The crowd gathered at a makeshift cemetery in Douma, a neighbourhood of Eastern Ghouta, to say a few brief prayers and bury seven people killed in a bomb blast that morning.

The mourners separated the corpses - three children, three teenage boys, and one elderly man - with cinder blocks and laid wooden slabs across the blocks to create a new tier for the next set of bodies to come.

As they began laying the bodies into the earth a jet streaked overhead and fired a rocket into the crowd. Friends and family leapt into the open grave for safety, but when the smoke cleared they counted 11 of their number who had been killed.

What started as seven deaths had suddenly become 18.

"We don't have time to bury any one person, to dig him a grave and to honour him" said Abu Abdelrahman, a father-of-three who was at the graveyard during the strike. "We just say a quick prayer and then go back."

No one knows how many people will be in those mass graves, or buried under the rubble of their homes, by the end of Bashar al-Assad's assault on Eastern Ghouta, the last rebel-held suburb of Damascus.

The Syrian leader's pilots and artillery crews work diligent shifts, according to residents. They begin their bombardment at around 6am and silence their guns at midnight, giving the 400,000 trapped civilians a few hours' respite. At least 310 people have been killed since Sunday and more than 1,550 have been wounded, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

One man sounded weary and resigned when the Daily Telegraph reached him by Whatsapp in the basement where he and his family are hiding. "I think the picture is clear now. Look at the photos of body parts on Facebook, they express what I want to say," he said.

"I will tell you something I saw today," said Abu Abdelrahman. "I was about 20 metres from our basement and there was a bombardment. I saw one body without a head. It is like Judgment Day here. Some people grab their children and they run and they run into a rocket by mistake."

For many jaundiced observers of Syria's seven years of war, the siege feels like a bleak and repetitive sequel to the battle for Aleppo, which ended in 2016.

© Daily Telegraph London

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