For a week now, government and Russian jets have been pummeling the opposition-held enclave, bringing the number of dead to more than 400, and the number of injured in the thousands. Residential buildings, schools, marketplaces and hospitals have been deliberately targeted. The majority of victims are helpless civilians, many of them children.
Thirteen facilities supported by Medecins Sans Frontieres inside Eastern Ghouta have been bombed; Physicians for Human Rights, another medical NGO, said eight facilities it supported were also hit. Most people have taken refuge in basements and underground caves. But even then, barrel bombs and shelling have brought entire buildings down, with victims trapped underneath.
Russia, the main power broker in Syria, has blamed the rebels for the failure to reach a truce and denied that its jets had targeted civilians. But evidence to the contrary is mounting: Raw footage that somehow reaches various news agencies and social media shows horrific scenes of crumbling buildings and shell-shocked victims being treated in makeshift clinics that are running out of medicines. No one is spared. Even if what Russia says is true — that the rebels have refused to hand over their weapons, and that they are using civilians as human shields while continuing to shell Damascus neighborhoods — nothing can justify this massacre.
The Syrian uprising has been hijacked by radical terrorist groups such as Daesh and Al-Nusra Front, but that is no excuse for bombing helpless civilians.
Other than condemnations by the international community, there is little that is being done to stop the carnage. The Aleppo playbook is being applied to the letter in Eastern Ghouta. The enclave will eventually fall and Syrian troops will claim what is left of it, but the price will once again be borne by civilians, primarily women and children. Russia’s role in perpetrating this bloodbath can never be whitewashed.
The UN Security Council will agree to a truce — with Russian reservations. But what matters is what happens on the ground. It will take days for any meaningful cease-fire to hold. And it will take weeks for the parties to agree to a plan to send in aid convoys and evacuate the injured. And as we have seen before in Syria, cease-fire deals are violated hours, sometimes minutes, after they go into effect. Each side will blame the other.
For the regime, conquering Eastern Ghouta will end rebel presence around the capital and will prepare the ground for the next bloody chapter in the seven-year Syrian crisis: The battle for Daraa and the southwest.
There is little doubt that the regime and Russia believe a military victory will determine the outcome of a political process somewhere along the road. But that process will have little to do with UN resolutions on Syria. It will take the shape of total surrender by the opposition without meeting any of its demands.
The overall indifference by the international community to what is happening in Eastern Ghouta paints a scary picture for the future of Syria: A “rehabilitated” regime that manages to evade responsibility for using chemical weapons, bombing civilian areas, carrying out summary execution of opponents and committing crimes against humanity!
It is true that the Syrian uprising has been hijacked by radical terrorist groups such as Daesh and Al-Nusra Front. But that cannot justify the horrific obliteration of Eastern Ghouta. Thousands of civilians will die before the dust finally settles and the last bullet is fired.
Russia has a special responsibility in Syria and it cannot distance itself from the crimes that are taking place in Eastern Ghouta. There is still time to find a political way out that will spare thousands of lives and establish a truce.
• Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.