The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria released a report (PDF) March 15 condemning the pervasive sexual and gender-based violence that has occurred over the past seven years in the Syrian conflict. The report, entitled "I Lost My Dignity: Sexual and gender-based violence in the Syrian Arab Republic," was written after UN workers interviewed more than 450 survivors, lawyers, healthcare practitioners and other affected individuals concerning the use of such violence between March 2011 and December 2017. The report details the systemic rape, torture, and other acts of sexual violence perpetrated by government forces and affiliated militias at checkpoints, in detention centers, and during interrogations.
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)
Medical facilities supported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the besieged enclave of Eastern Ghouta report having received 1,000 dead and upwards of 4,800 wounded over the two-week period ending March 4. This figure is an underestimate, as it does not include information from all medical facilities supported by MSF in the area, or from facilities not supported by MSF. Warplanes of the Assad regime and its Russian allies continue their apparent intentional targeting of hospitals; 15 out of 20 facilities supported by MSF in East Ghouta have been hit by bombing or shelling during the recent escalation.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on March 2 warned Syria that air-strikes, shelling and use of toxic agents in Eastern Ghouta likely constitute war crimes. Zeid asserts that the citizens of Eastern Ghouta are enduring every kind of deprivation, with no aid getting through since November, except for one single convoy of humanitarian aid that managed to reach just 7,200 people, of the hundreds of thousands in the area. "As a direct result, thousands upon thousands of children in Eastern Ghouta are acutely malnourished and profoundly traumatized. And now they are facing one of the most pitiless onslaughts in this long-running and brutal civil war."
A child died and at least 13 other people suffered breathing difficulties after an apparent chemical attack on the besieged Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta Feb. 25, medics and monitors reported. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 14 civilians had suffered breathing difficulties after regime air-strikes struck the village of al-Shifuniyah. One woman is said to remain in a critical condition. A doctor who treated those affected, told AFP he suspected “chemical weapons, probably a chlorine gas attack." (Japan Times)
This is a political tragedy, and bodes more poorly than ever for any eventual return of peace to Syria. This week, Assad regime forces joined the Kurdish militia defending the northern enclave of Afrin from Turkish aggression. The People's Protection Units (YPG), military force of the Kurds' Rojava autonomous region, confirmed in a Feb. 20 statement that after days of negotiations the "Syrian government" and allied forces had entered Afrin. "After more than a month of the legendary resistance of our forces against the Turkish invasion army and the terrorist groups aligned with it from Jabhat al-Nusra, Da'esh and others, and causing severe losses for the invaders... our units considered to call the Syrian govt and its army to undertake its duties in participating in defending Afrin and protecting the Syrian borders against this evil invasion," YPG spokesperson Nouri Mahmoud said. "The Syrian government has thus heeded the call...and sent military units...to concentrate on the borders and participate in defending the unity of Syrian lands and its borders." (The Region)
Mystery continues to surround the Feb. 8 US air-strikes on Syria's Deir ez-Zor governorate, which Damascus called a "brutal massacre" of some 200 pro-regime troops. This was the latest of just a handful of times that pro-regime forces have been targeted by the US. Initial reports said private Russian mercenaries were among those killed in the strikes, wihch were apparently in retaliation for regime attacks on US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in the area. At issue seems to have been the "Coneco" gas-field, although the typically garbled media accounts contradict each other on whether regime forces were attempting to take it from the SDF or vice versa. But another blast at an arms depot in the same area is again said to have left 15 Russian private security personnel dead. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said those killed in the Feb. 15 incident at Tabiya Jazira were Russians "protecting the oil and gas fields controlled by the Syrian regime." (SBS, UNIAN, AFP, Feb. 15)
As Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies continue their advance on Kurdish-held Afrin, Russia and its Syrian regime allies continue their advance on rebel-held Iblib. Both offensives are taking a horrific toll in civilian casualties, but the parallels don't end there. Even as they ostensibly oppose each other, both Turkey and Assad are accused of conniving with ISIS forces to weaken the defenders of the respective enclaves. And the twin aggressions in Afrin and Idlib come amid a sudden and rapid internationalization of the Syrian war.