The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and its allies have killed over 400 civilians in Eastern Ghouta this week, in one of the worst massacres in Syria’s seven-year civil war.
Since 2013, the Assad regime has besieged the Damascene suburb, the last remaining opposition-controlled area near the Syrian capital. The brutal siege has deprived the city’s 400,000 residents of crucial food, medicine, and humanitarian support. Unsatisfied with merely starving its occupants, the Syrian regime has started to heavily bombard Eastern Ghouta and seems poised to launch a full-fledged ground assault on the city. This horrific operation has already claimed hundreds of lives, and the coming campaign promises further violent atrocities on a massive scale.
Observers believe this intensified bombardment is a prelude to a full ground assault on the enclave. As a rescue worker from the Syria Civil Defense, known widely as the White Helmets, told The Washington Post on Saturday, “[i]t is well known that the regime is gearing up for a fresh assault on Eastern Ghouta and intends to attack it from all sides.”
The regime and its allies have made clear their intentions to continue devastating the city and slaughtering its inhabitants. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that lessons learned from “liberating” the city of Aleppo from militants could be applied in Eastern Ghouta. This strategy was endorsed on Thursday by the Syrian regime’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar al-Jaafari, who confirmed that “yes, Eastern Ghouta will become a second Aleppo.” In short, the Assad regime fully intends to repeat the atrocities it committed in Aleppo in order to assert its control over Eastern Ghouta, following through on the popular pro-regime slogan: “Assad or we burn the country down.”
While the Syrian regime has officially labeled Eastern Ghouta a “de-escalation zone,” this label has not stopped Assad’s forces from killing over 400 civilians between the end of last December and the start of this week’s brutal assault, which has claimed the lives of another 400.
Amnesty International has condemned the regime’s recent actions in Eastern Ghouta as “flagrant war crimes” on an “epic scale.” Meanwhile, the slaughter of civilians is continuing unabated and unchallenged by the international community. As Raed Al Saleh, head of the White Helmets, wrote in The Guardian on Thursday, “[t]he Syrian people hold international leaders responsible for failing to prevent their suffering, and demand that they use all measures available to stop the aerial attacks, break the siege and immediately evacuate the hundreds of people in need of urgent medical attention.”
As Assad and his allies decimate Eastern Ghouta and destroy the lives of its inhabitants, merely watching in horror as these atrocities unfold is unacceptable. The international community must heed Saleh’s call and take meaningful action to stop this massacre before any more lives are lost.