Syria ‘de-escalation zone’ sees civilians buried under the rubble
Syria ‘de-escalation zone’ sees civilians buried under the rubble
The violence aims to further weaken rebels in their last stronghold near Damascus, analysts said, as Russia, Iran and Turkey launch a diplomatic dash to resolve Syria’s grinding six-year conflict.
The three countries agreed earlier this year to establish de-escalation zones aimed at reducing hostilities in four battleground areas across Syria.
One such zone came into effect in Eastern Ghouta in July, but after months of relative calm, intense artillery fire and air strikes have pummelled the region for the past week.
Residents of the opposition stronghold have described living in utter terror.
“We’re forced to hide in parts of our home that aren’t suitable for living, like the bathroom and the kitchen,” said 28-year-old Majed.
“We even sleep there sometimes.”
The father of two lives in Douma, one of the largest towns in Eastern Ghouta and a regular target of regime raids.
Despite his wife’s efforts to create a normal life for their children, their four-year-old son has been left deeply scarred.
“When he hears the bombing, he runs to hide in the closet or behind the door, screaming, ‘The plane, the plane is attacking’,” Majed told AFP.
Since Tuesday, government bombardment of Eastern Ghouta has killed at least 80 civilians including 14 children, and wounded hundreds more, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
In Douma on Sunday, an AFP journalist witnessed doctors rushing to treat wailing children lying on bloodstained hospital beds.
Their eyes wide with fear, children awaited life-saving care, many having had limbs pierced by shrapnel.
Nearby, two men mourned over the lifeless body of a child, wrapped in a red-and-white sheet on the floor.
An estimated 400,000 people live in Eastern Ghouta, where a four-year government siege has made food, medicine, and other basic necessities either unavailable or too expensive.
Regime forces began their bomb assault there last week, after hard-line rebel group Ahrar Al-Sham attacked a military base in the nearby town of Harasta.
Rebel rocket fire on Damascus has also killed at least 16 people since Thursday, the Observatory said.
“Regime forces used the rebel offensive on Harasta as a pretext to target all of Eastern Ghouta,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
He said government troops were trying to “turn the rebels’ popular base against them.”
The presidents of rebel backer Turkey and of regime allies Iran and Russia will meet in the city of Sochi on Wednesday to discuss reducing violence and boosting aid deliveries.
But analysts say the Eastern Ghouta hostilities have marred the de-escalation deal touted by the three countries.
Nawar Oliver of the Turkey-based Omran Center think tank said the Eastern Ghouta zone “is not over, but it’s hit a big obstacle.”
“Obviously, the de-escalation deal in the Ghouta isn’t going too well,” said Aron Lund, a fellow with The Century Foundation.
Syria’s government had long eyed Eastern Ghouta, viewing the enclave as “too close to the capital to be left like this,” he said.
Rebels had “little chance” of surviving the assault, said Lund.
In the rebel-held town of Madira on Sunday, volunteers from the White Helmets rescue force climbed through the rubble of a building after a recent air strike.
Flashlights in hand, they scrambled over concrete blocks and metal rods to try to find the bodies of the family that had been living there.
“They’re six people. We found three, and three are left,” one volunteer said.
One volunteer dug into the rubble with a wooden stick and uncovered a limb, which he placed carefully in a white bag.
“It’s a child’s leg,” his colleague said.
Another volunteer said the air strike had hit “a bomb shelter that residents were hiding in since the evening call to prayer.”
“There are a lot of body parts,” he added.
According to the Observatory, the six-member family — a man, his wife, and their four children — all died in the bombardment.
After regime shelling on Douma earlier that week, paramedic Firas Al-Kahhal said he had witnessed a haunting scene.
The 22-year-old was dispatched to the bombed-out home to search for any survivors.
“As soon as we entered I saw a baby girl, no more than eight months old, trying to crawl out of the rubble,” Kahhal told AFP.
The infant had suffered wounds to her head, but survived.
“What we saw was heartbreaking. She lived under shelling and terror. Her brain can’t even absorb what’s happening.”
British milestones in Holy Land set traditional foundation for royal visit of Prince William
- Prince William will become on Monday the first British royal to pay an official visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories
- Visit comes 70 years after British forces withdrew from the Holy Land leaving behind the divisions that remain to this day
JERUSALEM: Prince William will become on Monday the first British royal to pay an official visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, 70 years after British forces withdrew from the Holy Land leaving behind the divisions that remain to this day.
Queen Elizabeth’s grandson, 36, and second-in-line to the throne, will travel without his wife Kate or their three children for the three-day visit. He will stay in Jerusalem at the King David hotel, once the headquarters of British authorities, where Jewish militants killed more than 90 people in a bombing in 1946.
Britain captured Palestine from the crumbling Ottoman Empire during World War One in 1917, and later governed it under an international mandate.
William’s visit coincides with the 70th anniversary both of Britain’s exit and of Israel’s independence, which Palestinians mourn as their dispossession.
THE BALFOUR DECLARATION
In November 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour sent a letter to Baron Rothschild, a prominent leader of Britain’s Jewish community, expressing British support for “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. What became known as the Balfour Declaration also talked of protecting the “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish communities.
The Balfour Declaration is a milestone for Israelis: the official residence of the prime minister in Jerusalem is on Balfour Street, and the British Library said on Wednesday it is in discussions to lend the document to the Israel Museum.
By contrast, Palestinians accuse the British of signing away land that wasn’t theirs to give, and of colonial double-dealing to seize the Ottoman Empire’s Middle East territories.
THE BRITISH MANDATE OF PALESTINE
In 1922 the League of Nations awarded Britain the Palestine Mandate, endorsing the Balfour Declaration. The next quarter century was marred by fighting in Palestine between Arabs and Jews. Both communities also clashed with British troops.
For survivors of the genocide of six million European Jews in the Holocaust, the creation of a state of their own in the Holy Land took on new urgency after World War Two.
The final years of British rule were marked by intensifying clashes between Jewish and Arab forces. When militants from the underground Jewish Irgun group bombed the King David Hotel in July 1946, the dead included both Arab and Jewish staff as well as 28 British citizens. In 1947, the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a plan to partition Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state. Arab representatives rejected the plan.
Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, the day before the end of British rule. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled or were driven from their homes, and millions of their descendants remain stateless refugees to this day.
According to some traditions, England’s patron saint, St. George, is buried in Lydda, now the Israeli town of Lod, near Tel Aviv. Prince William is expected to visit St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem, among other religious sites.
In the 12th century, King Richard I of England, known as Richard the Lionheart, led the Third Crusade to the Holy Land, where he fought the Muslim leader Saladin. A peace treaty left Jerusalem under Muslim control, but allowed Christians to enter.
In the Victorian era, the Holy Land drew British scholars, archaeologists, explorers, cartographers, tourists and missionaries. Its importance to Britain became much more pronounced with the opening of the Suez Canal in the late 19th century, and the discovery of oil in Iraq, piped from Mosul to the Mediterranean via Haifa.
WHY IS PRINCE WILLIAM MAKING THE TRIP?
William’s visit is at the behest of the British government. Until now it had been British policy not to make an official royal trip until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. William’s tour comes at a time of diplomatic upheaval in the region, after US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US Embassy there. The prince’s communications secretary, Jason Knauf, said the visit would be non-political, allowing “a spotlight to be brought to bear on the people of the region: their cultures, their young people, their aspirations, and their experiences.”
WHAT WILL THE TRIP INCLUDE?
William will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He will also visit religious sites, Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial to the Holocaust dead, and the tomb of his great-grandmother Princess Alice, who hid a Jewish family in her residence in Greece during World War Two and is buried in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Other members of the royal family have made unofficial visits. Prince Charles, William’s father, attended the funerals of Israeli statesmen Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. In 1994 Prince Philip, William’s grandfather, attended a ceremony at Yad Vashem honoring his mother, Princess Alice.