A few hundred of the several hundreds of thousands trapped in besieged Eastern Ghouta have been allowed to evacuate to rebel-held Idlib governorate through a “humanitarian corridor” supposedly free of regime and Russian air-strikes. The Assad regime and its allies have now managed to split the enclave into three blocs, each surrounded and under bombardment. Aid groups warn that conditions in the enclave surpass even those seen during the 2016 Aleppo crisis. Ghouta’s fall looks increasingly certain, leaving Idlib as the last rebel-held pocket of Syria. (Middle East Eye, NYT)
Even as he generously oversees a “humanitarian corridor,” Putin plays to the conspiracy set in covering up for the Assad regime’s war crimes. Pressed by Megyn Kelly on NBC News, the Russian strongman asserted that the repeated chemical attacks on Ghouta are “fake news,” and “simply boring.”
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said March 9 that the seven-year Syrian war has created a “colossal human tragedy” that has left hundreds of thousands dead, displaced 6 million within the country and sent 5.6 million seeking asylum as refugees. Nearly 70% of civilians are living in extreme poverty. Food prices are eight times higher than pre-crisis levels, with 90% of families spending over half of their yearly income on sustenance. An estimated 5.6 million people do not have basic human necessities, such as food, shelter, health care and education. About 43% of children who should be in school are not.
Despite UN Security Council Resolution 2401, requiring all parties to immediately cease hostilities for at least 30 consecutive days to enable aid deliveries, Eastern Ghouta is still mostly cut off by relentless bombardment, Grandi urged that “humanitarian access to those in need must be guaranteed. People must be allowed to leave to seek refuge and civilians and civilian infrastructure including hospitals and schools must be protected at all costs.” (Jurist)
But calling the situation a “tragedy” is a nice way to avoid assigning blame.
Meanwhile, in Syria’s far northwest, Turkish and allied forces are similarly closing the circle on the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin. Water to Afrin town has now been cut for a week, as Turkish-led forces prepare for a major ground assault. Access to water ended after Turkey’s forces seized the main dam and water plant from the YPG Kurdish militia. (Al Jazeera)
As these two atrocities unfold before the world’s eyes, the reaction overwhelmingly falls into two equally cynical categories: indifference or double-standard concern. There is practically no overlap between those calling for support of Ghouta and Afrin. The Turkish assault on Afrin has forced the YPG into an alliance with the same Assad regime that is committing war crimes in Ghouta, which obviously poses an obstacle to any solidarity between the respective defenders of the besieged enclaves.
But we in the West are faced with no such grim choices, and should be capable of a consistent position. Yet Noam Chomsky, who signed a statement in support of Afrin, has shamefully abetted Putin’s propaganda portraying Assad’s chemical attacks as “fake news.”
Do you think it is possible that anti-war forces in the West could be part of the solution instead of part of the problem?
Photo of Aleppo ruins from UNHCR
Grim anniversary in Syria
The seeming endgame in Ghouta comes exactly seven years after the start of the Syrian revolution—the protest wave initially sparked by the arrest and torture of school-children who painted anti-regime slogans on a wal in Deraa. How different might the world look today if the peaceful, secular pro-democracy protesters who bravely defied the regime in March 2011 had received any solidarity from the outside world?
Credit must be given to the Black Rose Anarchist Federation for running a statement by Frieda Afary supporting Ghouta, recognizing the Assad regime as allied with the radical right globally, and noting the tragic nature of the Kurdish alliance with Assad.
Air-strike kills children in Eastern Ghouta school
An air-strike reportedly killed 15 children and two women sheltering in an underground school in Syria's besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta enclave on March 20. Rescuers said civilians had been hiding in the school to escape air raids on the town of Arbin, in the enclave's southern pocket controlled by the Faylaq al-Rahman rebel group.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that three missiles hit the underground school. In addition to the 17 civilians killed, 50 others were wounded, SOHR said. The opposition National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces alleged that the school had been deliberately targeted by Russian warplanes, calling it an intnetional "massacre."
More than 1,400 civilians are believed to have been killed since government forces stepped up an offensive on the enclave outside Damascus a month ago. At least 50,000 civilians have fled the siege in the past week. (BBC News)
Statement by the civilian bloc in eastern Ghouta
Pulse Media runs a statement by civil society leaders in besieged Eastern Ghouta, calling upon the international community:
The statement is signed by leaders of the autonomous admnistration in Eastern Ghouta.