Thousands of people are being forced to leave Eastern Ghouta as the Syrian army and its allies close in on the remaining areas under opposition control. For months now, Siege Watch has been warning about what is now happening in Eastern Ghouta.
It is part of the Syrian government´s “surrender or die” strategy — a scorched earth campaign aimed at clearing areas of the country not only of opposition fighters, but of all civilians. Unless the international community steps in to stop this campaign, the besieged communities of southern Damascus and northern Homs will be next. This is one of the conclusions of the 9th quarterly Siege Watch report published today by PAX and the Syria Institute.
Stop more crimes
“The pattern is clear – we’ve been warning about this scenario for Eastern Ghouta for months now. Yet the international community has failed to protect the civilians there,” says Marjolein Wijninckx, PAX programme leader. “It is not too late to put protection of civilians first and to stop crimes against humanity.”
Need for reliable brokers
Even as the opposition fighters surrender and the fighting stops, the people of Ghouta still urgently need protection. Surrender deals are being made for the evacuation of not only fighters, but also civilians. Russia is not a reliable broker to negotiate such deals, as it has directly been involved in the scorched earth campaign against Ghouta, including dropping incendiary weapons and banned cluster bombs on residential neighbourhoods.
So other countries must step in. Independent monitors are needed to monitor the situation during and after displacement to prevent executions, unlawful arrests, forced conscription into the Syrian army, separation of families, and other forms of abuse.
A long campaign
The offensive against Eastern Ghouta started in November, then escalated in mid-February when the Syrian and Russian air forces intensified the bombing. Syrian government ground troops, alongside foreign militias, entered the besieged community, in breach of UN Security Council 2401 which called for a ceasefire. More than 400,000 people have been living under siege in Eastern Ghouta for almost 5 years.
Today’s Siege Watch report also shows that the so-called de-escalation zones designated in the Russian-led peace process have in fact suffered under intense attacks. Temporary ceasefires have meant that the attacking forces could concentrate more fire-power on places not covered by the ceasefire. After an area has been overtaken, surviving residents have been evacuated, the men and the women separated.
The 9th Siege Watch report documents 714,345 people living under siege in 33 communities throughout Syria as of 31 January 2018.