What Is Happening in Eastern Ghouta? Damascus Suburb Suffers One of Deadliest Day Since 2013

The suburb of eastern Ghouta, which lies in the shadow of the Syrian capital, Damascus, has been under a Syrian military siege since 2013. But on Monday, it suffered one of the deadliest days of the seven-year-long civil war, according to aid and monitoring groups.

The Syrian air force bombarded the area with airstrikes, killing more than 100 people and injuring hundreds more. Around 400,000 people live in the suburb.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a U.K.-based monitoring group that has a wide network of sources on the ground in Syria, said that dozens more had been killed in further bombardments on Tuesday.

The suburb has been a bastion of opposition throughout the war and an enclave of rebel fighters who are rallying against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

It has faced a crippling siege for years, but on Monday, its hospitals were the target of Syrian jets, the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM) said.

02_20_Ghouta Smoke rises from buildings following the bombardment of the village of Mesraba, in the rebel-held besieged eastern Ghouta region, on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, on February 19. Syrian air force bombardments killed at least 100 people, including 20 children, monitors say. Hamza Al-Ajweh/AFP/Getty

The Iranian military, using advisers and militiamen, and the Russian military, which has sent both ground troops and jets into Syria, are fighting on the side of Assad to prevent him from losing his grip on key population centers in the country. Moscow and Tehran have helped Assad wrest control of the northern city of Aleppo back from rebel and jihadi factions.

The president of the main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC), said that the ramped-up bombardment of Ghouta had shown that Assad had “zero interest to engage” in talks with the opposition.

“The Syrian regime with the direct support of Russia and Iran have turned Ghouta into a bloodbath of innocent women and children,” SNC President Nasr al-Hariri told reporters in Brussels, Agence France-Presse news agency reported.

“What’s happening in Ghouta is a war crime. International law is very clear on the matter, but in Syria the implementation of international law doesn’t exist.”

In response to what took place on Monday, rebels fired shells at Damascus on Tuesday, killing at least eight people.

02_20_Ghouta Ghaith, a wounded 12-year-old Syrian boy, cries as he receives treatment at a makeshift hospital in Kafr Batna and waits for news of his mother in the operating room after they were wounded in airstrikes on the town of Jisreen, in the besieged eastern Ghouta region, on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, on February 19. Ammar Suleiman/AFP/Getty

Rebel and Islamist factions, including Jaysh al-Islam, are based in the suburb. The siege has meant that civilians are living under extreme hardship, with a lack of basic foodstuffs and medical supplies. Injured civilians do not have a way out of Ghouta and remain trapped inside.

Opposition figures have suggested that the Syrian military is bringing in reinforcements in preparation for a ground assault on Ghouta, according to the Associated Press. Damascus and allied fighters launched a similar ground and air operation to recapture Aleppo in July 2016 once they had surrounded the city.

One of the worst attacks in the Syrian civil war took place in the suburb. In August 2013, rockets containing the chemical agent sarin struck Ghouta, according to the U.N. The attack killed at least hundreds, with some monitors putting the death toll at over a thousand people.

The international community reacted to the attack by condemning the Assad regime and agreeing on a deal to remove all of the country’s chemical weapons stockpile. But the U.N. has cast doubt on whether Assad has truly given up his chemical weapons arsenal.

The U.N. has called for a ceasefire that could last for a month, but it is unclear if the Syrian president and his forces will let up in what is fast becoming one of the most brutal bombardments of the Syrian civil war.

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