Even if you do not follow Syria closely, you might have come across an article or a picture about a place called Ghouta. So what exactly is happening?
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 403 civilians, including 150 children, were killed in Ghouta between February 18 and 23. More than 2,100 were injured. Twenty-two hospitals and makeshift clinics have been targeted, according to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), and according to Médecins Sans Frontières, 13 of the hospitals they have supported in Ghouta have been knocked out of service. Only three medical facilities are left.
Today people are hiding in basements to protect themselves from bombardment, but even underground they are not safe. According to SAMS, the government and its Russian ally have been using so-called “bunker busters,” which can destroy underground shelters. One mother, Ward Martin, said in a post on social media that each basement shelter has more than 200 people in it—and they have no electricity or heat. She described crouching in the darkness, hearing the sounds of people praying. “Me and my children haven’t eaten for three days,” she said. “Some women are miscarrying from fear.”
Where is the international community?
The end of the Syrian civil war is apparently not on anyone’s agenda. The United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF, saying, “We no longer have the words to describe children’s suffering and our outrage,” issued a blank statement—yet another sign of the international community’s failure.
What is happening today in Ghouta is not new, but the bombing hasn’t been this intense in years. This 100-square-kilometer suburb shelters more than 400,000 civilians, most of whom fled there from other parts of Damascus. Only some 100 doctors remain in Ghouta, and since the government siege began in 2013, more than 2,000 people have died. Meanwhile, evacuation for the injured is limited. In August 2017, four children died waiting for permission to be evacuated. Food is scarce, and too expensive for many to afford. Men allied with the regime bring food into the besieged suburb to sell at exorbitant prices. According to a SAMS report from last fall, a dozen eggs costs 4,000 Syrian pounds ($8), and a liter of gasoline costs a little over 6,000. The average monthly salary in Syria is 30,000.
Despite all the carnage, there are still voices in the Syrian government media defending this brutal military campaign against civilians, which has been aided by Russian air forces. One recent report claims that the only reason civilians are being killed is that jihadists use them as human shields. This is the same argument we hear every time Israel carries out an assault on besieged Gaza.