Since the Douma chemical attack terrorized the rebel defenders of Eastern Ghouta enclave into accepting a "surrender deal" and evacuating to Idlib province, the Assad regime and its Russian allies have been preparing a final offensive on the last remaining areas of Syria still under rebel control. These of course include Idlib in the north, the last full governorate (province) held by the rebels. But an Associated Press report suggests the regime may first focus its firepower on Daraa governorate in the south, where the Free Syrian Army's Southern Front continues to hold territory. And while the rebel militias that hold Idlib are mostly conservative Islamists, the Southern Front is secular-nationalist in its leadership.
Just over a year after Trump's air-strikes on an Assad regime airbase in response to the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack, we've witnessed a repeat of this episode—although this time the air-strikes were on wider targets, and carried out in conjunction with British and French forces. In response to last week's chemical attack on Douma in Syria's besieged Eastern Ghouta enclave, missiles and warplanes from the USS Donald Cook in the eastern Mediterranean carried out the first Western strikes on targets around the Damascus area. The following targets are reported to have been hit: the Damascus Scientific Research Center, said to be linked to production of chemical and biological weapons; another purported chemical weapons lab in Barzeh; a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs; and headquarters of various elite military units. Iranian forces were apparently also targeted, with a base used by the Republican Guard struck. However, this military action looks like it will be no more sustained than that of last April. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called it a "single shot," and is believed to have put the brakes on the scope "to keep this from escalating." He told reporters after the initial sorties: "Right now we have no additional attacks planned." There are no reports of any deaths in the air-strikes, and the few known casualties are all military personnel. (American Military News, Middle East Eye, Reuters, NYT, CNBC, BBC News)
UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement April 9 saying he is "deeply concerned" about ongoing air-strikes on Douma in Syria's besieged Eastern Ghouta enclave, noting the "killing of civilians" and "destruction of civilian infrastructure," including hospitals and health facilities. The statement said he is "particularly alarmed by allegations that chemical weapons have been used against civilian populations in Douma." It also noted reports of civilians killed by shelling of Damascus from rebel positions in Douma. Guterres called on all sides to abide by Security Council Resolutions 2401, which last month demanded a 30-day halt to hostilitiess. He reiterated that there is no military solution to the conflict.
Russian-backed Assad regime forces are on the verge of taking the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria's Eastern Ghouta enclave, in the Damascus suburbs. A Russian military commander boasted: "The militants are being evacuated from Douma, their last bastion in Eastern Ghouta, and within a few days the humanitarian operation in Eastern Ghouta must be completed." This "humanitarian operation" has seen the near-total destruction of Ghouta by aerial bombardment over the past weeks, with some 1,500 killed. Thousands of fighters and residents have been allowed to evacuate via buses to Idlib, Syria's last rebel-held province, under what was reported as a "surrender agreement." (Al Jazeera, Syria Direct)
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) last week issued a pressingly important report, "The multipolar spin: how fascists operationalize left-wing resentment." It refreshingly called out "red-brown populist collaboration"—documenting the growing convergence between figures on the supposed "left" and the radical, even fascist right, both in the US and in Europe. Playing a critical role is the Russo-nationalist ideologue Alexander Dugin, who is bringing together supposed peaceniks and neo-fascists around supporting despots like Putin and Assad in the name of a "multi-polar" world. But, depressingly, at the first howls of protest from this very Red-Brown alliance, SPLC folded like punks, removing the report from their website and issuing a pusillanimous apology.
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."