‘Massacre of the century’: Assad launches fresh raids as war reaches a new low

About 210 people, including 54 children, have died in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta since the bombing intensified on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 21 February 2018
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‘Massacre of the century’: Assad launches fresh raids as war reaches a new low

LONDON: The Syrian regime tightened its grip on a rebel enclave on the outskirts of Damascus yesterday, with dozens of people killed as fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships unleashed some of the worst violence yet in the country’s seven-year civil war.
Witnesses to the attack on Eastern Ghouta described scenes of unprecedented devastation in a conflict that has already displaced millions and destabilized the entire region.
Pictures from the enclave showed desperate civilians, including women and children, bleeding and covered in dust as they struggled to find cover amid the shattered landscape.
The assault, which human rights observers said killed 127 people on Monday and at least 66 yesterday, brought condemnation from the international community but appears to be far from over. Syrian forces, backed by Iranian militias, are now reported to be massing for a ground assault on the area.
Panos Moumtzis, the UN’s regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, warned that the situation “is spiraling out of control” and called for the regime’s targeting of civilians to stop immediately.
“It’s imperative to end this senseless human suffering now,” he said.
In a rare and emotive gesture, the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, issued a largely blank statement to symbolize its anger at the carnage. “Do those inflicting the suffering still have words to justify their barbaric acts?” it asked in a postscript.
Eastern Ghouta, an area of satellite towns and farms on the fringes of Damascus, is home to 400,000 people. Once an important source of food for the Syrian capital, it has been under rebel control since 2012.
By the following year, the enclave was under almost constant attack from the government of President Bashar Assad, with markets, schools and hospitals frequently targeted by regime forces. In one of the most notorious incidents of the war, hundreds of civilians died there on Aug. 21, 2013, in an attack using rockets containing the chemical sarin. UN investigators later found “clear and convincing evidence” they had been killed using chemical weapons.
However, witnesses to this week’s bloodshed say the current level of violence is arguably more horrific than anything they have previously experienced.
A doctor told the UK’s The Guardian newspaper the recent bombardment is “the massacre of this century right now.”
Meanwhile, AFP quoted a doctor, who identified himself as Abu Al-Yasar, as describing Monday as “one of the worst days that we’ve ever had in the history of this crisis.” He described inserting a breathing tube into an injured 1-year-old who had been pulled from the rubble, only to find the baby’s mouth “packed with dirt.” He managed to save the boy’s life, but many others were not so lucky.
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, about 210 people have died in Eastern Ghouta since the bombing intensified on Sunday, including 54 children. At least 850 have been injured. Monday’s death toll was the highest in the area for three years, it said.
The dominant rebel movement in the enclave is Jaish Al-Islam, a hard-line coalition that took part in UN-sponsored peace talks last year.
One of the group’s co-founders, Mohammed Alloush, told AP that the recent attacks on Eastern Ghouta are “a new Holocaust” that “is being committed by the dirtiest regime on earth.” He said the UN was also to blame for failing to protect civilians.
The Syrian civil war began in 2011 when Assad’s security forces violently cracked down on a wave of popular peaceful protest inspired by the Arab Spring sweeping the region. Since then, an estimated 11.5 million Syrians have fled their homes.
The conflict has become a proxy war for major world powers, with the US backing Kurdish rebels fighting Daesh in the north of the country, Israel launching air strikes against Syrian government targets, and Moscow and Tehran both providing crucial military, logistical and diplomatic support to Damascus.
Eastern Ghouta is meant to be part of a regime-approved “de-escalation” zone established in 2017 cease-fire talks backed by Russia, Iran and Turkey. But Lebanon’s Al-Manar television, which is affiliated to Assad’s ally Hezbollah, reported on Monday that the Syrian army is sending reinforcements toward the area.
In a statement yesterday, the French foreign ministry described this week’s assault as “a grave violation of international humanitarian law.” It condemned Russia, Iran and Syria for failing to honor the truce deal.


Syrian children study on the ground in abandoned villa

Displaced Syrian children attend class at a makeshift school in the village of Muhandiseen, in the south western countryside of the Aleppo province, on September 24, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 25 September 2018
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Syrian children study on the ground in abandoned villa

  • Some sit with their knees drawn on a plastic woven carpet, their shoes neatly by its side

ALEPPO, Syria: In rebel-held northern Syria, displaced children sit or lie on the ground of an unfinished villa, bending over their notebooks to apply themselves as they write the day’s lesson.
Four teachers instruct around 100 children — girls and boys aged six to 12 — at the makeshift school in an opposition-held area in the west of the northern province of Aleppo.
Between the bare walls of the villa abandoned mid-construction, children sit or lie on sheets or plain carpets, their small backpacks cast by their side.
Dubbed “Buds of Hope,” the teaching facility has no desks, library or even working toilets.
Instead, the air wafts in from beyond the pine trees outside through the gaping windows in the cement wall.
Dressed in a bright blue T-shirt and jeans, her hair neatly tied back in a pony tail, a barefoot girl kneels over her book, carefully writing.
“This isn’t a school,” says 11-year-old Ali Abdel Jawad.
“There aren’t any classrooms, no seats, nothing. We’re sitting on the ground,” he says.
In one classroom, a gaggle of veiled young girls sit on a bench, as the teacher explains the lesson to one of their male counterparts near a rare white board.
In another, the school’s only female teacher perches on a plastic chair, as her students gather around on the floor, their backs against the wall.

Some sit with their knees drawn on a plastic woven carpet, their shoes neatly by its side.
The children — as well as their teachers — have been displaced from their homes in other parts of Syria due to the seven-year war, a teacher told an AFP photographer.
Some hail from Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus, a former rebel stronghold that fell back under regime control in April after a blistering offensive and surrender deals.
Others come from the central provinces of Hama or Homs.
A dry fountain lies in the courtyard outside the villa’s elegant facade, where girls link arms and swing around in a circle.
Schools in opposition-held areas are generally funded by aid organizations, but have in the past been hit by bombardment.
“We’re always scared of bombardment and of the situation in general,” says one of the teachers, giving his name as Mohammed.
The building lies in rebel-held territory adjacent to regime-controlled parts of Aleppo city to the east, but also the major opposition stronghold of Idlib to the west.
Some three million people live in the Idlib province and adjacent areas of the neighboring Aleppo and Latakia provinces, around half of them displaced by war in other parts of Syria.
Earlier this month, many feared a regime assault on Idlib, but last week Damascus ally Moscow and rebel backer Ankara announced a deal to temporarily halt it.