SYRIA, EASTERN GHOUTA – Eastern Ghouta – part of the once flourishing suburb of Damascus – has become the focus of attention of the world community. Since mid-February, there are ongoing military operations and hundreds of deaths.
Russian Tass explains why a new hotbed of bloodshed appeared next to the Syrian capital.
What do you need to know about East Ghouta?
East Ghouta is a city near Damascus. It is part of the oasis of Gut, which surrounds the Syrian capital from the west, south and east and is a green agricultural belt. Before the start of the civil war, there were about 2.2 million people living here. Now there are about 400 thousand people left there.
In 2011, the East Ghouta was occupied by several groups of armed Syrian opposition. Due to the special geographical location of this region (proximity to Damascus), fierce battles were fought here throughout the entire Syrian conflict, using heavy weapons from both sides.
After armed clashes between terrorist groups, the territory of East Ghouta came under the control of Jabhat al-Nusra and Jays al-Islam (terrorist organizations, banned in the Russian Federation). In the summer of 2015, they made several attempts to attack Damascus.
In October of the same year, government troops launched an offensive on the eastern suburbs of Damascus, which continued with varying success for the following year. In autumn and winter of 2016, Damascus forces successfully attacked and occupied the strategic height of Tel-Savan.
At the end of 2016, military operations in East Gut were almost completed.
The district was included in the list of de-escalation zones created in accordance with the agreement of May 4, 2017 between the guarantor countries of the ceasefire in Syria: Russia, Iran and Turkey.
What is the situation in East Ghouta by the beginning of 2018?
Despite attempts to de-escalate, the district was on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe. On February 14, the UN convoy and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent arrived in East Gutu with food, medicine and other essential goods for 7,200 people.
Farhan Khak, the deputy official representative of the UN secretary-general, told journalists that UN officials who accompanied the humanitarian column “reported a serious food shortage” in the suburbs of Damascus. “69 cases of acute shortage of food have been registered in the local hospital, 127 more children are in danger, some basic goods can be bought on the market, but the prices for them are prohibitively high,” he said.
According to Jacques, “the UN team also discovered overdue painkillers, the use of which led to the death of two people.”
“There are reports of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, typhoid and scabies, vaccine stocks are running out, the last vaccination campaign was in November 2017, and 600 children are at risk,” the deputy official said.
How did the situation begin to aggravate?
Since mid-February, militants from Eastern Guta have intensified shelling of residential areas of Damascus. Militants Jabhat en-Nusra do not stop provocations from Eastern Ghouta, in particular shelled residential neighborhoods of Damascus, including the Russian embassy and trade mission – paid attention to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov -. Our Western partners for some reason prefer to make noise just around these two regions – Idlib and East Guta, without directly giving the reasons for what is happening there, and the reason lies in the armed provocations of “Jabhat an Nusra.”
On February 19, Farhan Khak told reporters that since February 15, information was received from the area of East Ghouta about a large number of civilian casualties, including women and children.
“During the same period, 36 mortar shells and missiles were fired over the residential areas of Damascus and its environs, which also led to the deaths and injuries of civilians,” he said.
How did Damascus respond?
Reuters , quoting the Syrian state news agency SANA, writes that troops of Syrian government forces began to strike at positions of Islamist groups.
At the same time, reports appeared that several hospitals were attacked. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported on 20 February that it was verifying this information.
he WHO estimates the battles in the suburb of Damascus as one of the most difficult conflicts for all time, pointing to the massive destruction of the infrastructure, including medical facilities.
Later, the UN confirmed that six hospitals had been hit in 48 hours of armed attack, “which led to the death and injury of people, and also deprived thousands of men, women and children of basic health services in this besieged enclave.” With reference to the representative of the UN Secretary General, it became known that more than 100 people, including at least 13 children, died in Eastern Gut since 19 February.
How did the West react?
The US called for an end to the violence in East Gut, placing blame on Damascus and Moscow. “The United States strongly condemns the recent attacks by Russia and the regime of [Syrian President Bashar] Assad on the Syrians in East Ghouta,” the White House spokesman Sara Sanders said in a written statement.
“We extend our condolences to the families of the dead and the wounded, and call on the international community to condemn these horrible attacks”.
Britain called on Damascus to provide humanitarian access to East Gutu, France – to seek compliance with the ceasefire in Syria and to declare a humanitarian break in East Guta, Italy blamed Damascus for the violence.
What does the Russian side say about this?
President’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov categorically rejected accusations that Russian troops were involved in the deaths of civilians in East Ghouta. “It’s groundless accusations, it’s unclear what they are based on,” he said, “there is no specific data, and that’s how we assess such accusations.” We disagree with them.”
On Wednesday, February 21, Russia requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the deteriorating humanitarian situation in East Gut. As the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Basil Nebenzia said, the meeting will allow members of the Security Council “to present their vision, understanding of this situation and propose ways out of it.”
As a source in the UN told Tass, on Wednesday evening Kuwait and Sweden officially submitted to the UN Security Council a draft resolution in support of a 30-day ceasefire throughout Syria. According to the document, the truce does not apply to operations against the terrorist group Islamic State.
The document also contains a requirement for the parties to the conflict to assist in the delivery of humanitarian assistance to areas difficult to access because of fighting and to carry out the evacuation of the wounded.
Earlier, the Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations, Olof Skoog, said that the draft resolution could be submitted for consideration on Thursday.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley announced the country’s readiness to support the document, while Russia’s permanent representative Vasily Nebenzia called for the adoption of a text that would be implemented. According to him, it is necessary to go through a “long and complicated process” to establish a ceasefire.
The UN Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria will be held on Thursday, February 22, at 12:00 am New York time.