Thursday 20 September 2018

Syria rebel stronghold on the verge of collapse

A child sleeps while being carried in a bag in the village of Beit Sawa, Eastern Ghouta, as 12,000 civilians fled along the ‘humanitarian corridor’ yesterday. Photo: Omar Sanadiki/Reuters
A child sleeps while being carried in a bag in the village of Beit Sawa, Eastern Ghouta, as 12,000 civilians fled along the ‘humanitarian corridor’ yesterday. Photo: Omar Sanadiki/Reuters

Josie Ensor

Thousands of civilians streamed out of Eastern Ghouta yesterday, as rebel defences looked to be crumbling under the intense campaign of bombing and starvation by the Syrian government.

In what was the largest evacuation since the regime's offensive began in mid-February, some 12,000 residents walked out of a newly opened "humanitarian" corridor.

State TV showed men, women, and children carrying plastic bags full of clothes as they left the Hammouriyeh neighbourhood for the government-held capital Damascus, where a line of buses was waiting.

Saudi satellite news channel Al-Ehkbariya reported they would be taken to a centre for identification and relief. It was uncertain where they would go next.

Men interviewed on camera praised the Syrian army and President Bashar al-Assad and said armed groups had humiliated them and held them against their will.

Others from Hammouriyeh fled further into rebel territory in neighbouring areas, fearing arrest by government forces if they were caught.

Syrian forces have used the tactic of dividing the enclave - which had been home to almost 400,000 people - into three before turning their attention to defeating them one at a time.

Hammouriyeh's residents have borne the brunt in the last few days with a relentless onslaught of barrel bombs, mortars and chemical strikes.

The last of the messages from inside the area came in the middle of the night on Wednesday.

"More than 5,000 people are at risk of annihilation," a doctor in the town said via text.

"Please get our voice out to the world, this might be the last message I'm able to send.

"The wounded are in the streets and cannot be moved and the planes are targeting any movement.

"I witnessed an entire family getting killed by air strikes."

The evacuation is the biggest blow to the opposition since the fall of Aleppo in late 2016 and comes on the seventh anniversary of the war's start in 2011.

Syrians from both sides of the conflict were asked how many more grim anniversaries they thought their country would mark. The shortest answer given was three.

"And what will be left by the end?" said Jawad Abu Hatab, prime minister of the opposition Syrian Interim Government. "Absolutely nothing."

Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said: "A war of vengeance is a war without end; it's one in which everybody loses." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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