Today News
A+ A A-

Under bombs, Syria rebels cling on in Eastern Ghouta — for now

Beirut, Lebanon — Despite a crippling siege, infighting and a ferocious wave of bombardment, Syrian rebels have clung on to their Eastern Ghouta stronghold near Damascus — but a looming ground offensive might finally oust them.
A renewed regime air campaign has left nearly 200 civilians dead in just three days, and signals the government is gearing up to make an all-out push to seize the enclave.
When Syrians broke out in protest against leader Bashar al-Assad’s rule in 2011, Eastern Ghouta joined in, and rebels captured it the following year.
Rebel control is now divided between two groups: Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman, both of which have pledged to mount a fierce defense against a regime assault.
The fighters have already survived five years of bombardment and siege, drawing on their local roots and smuggling tunnels.
“They are opposition organizations that have a social, political, economic, and military approach to interacting with the population of the Ghouta,” said Nicholas Heras of the Center for New American Security.
To pull out those roots, the regime imposed a punishing siege on the region in 2013 in what Heras called a “strategy of collective punishment.”
That encirclement made food, medicine, and other daily goods nearly impossible to access for Eastern Ghouta’s 400,000 residents.
“It is the regime saying to the people of the Ghouta that their rebellion personally offended Assad’s regime,” said Heras.
‘Profiteer’ from siege
Both Faylaq al-Rahman and Jaish al-Islam are Islamist factions founded in 2013 that have joined in peace talks in Geneva and Astana.
But the pair have also clashed multiple times in a struggle for influence in rebel-held parts of Ghouta, which amount to a little more than 100 square kilometers.
Jaish al-Islam is a Salafist-inspired organization that controls the main towns of Douma and Nashabiyah, with military positions outside the city centers.
Faylaq al-Rahman holds Eastern Ghouta’s other half, including the towns of Erbin, Hammuriyeh, and Jisreen, as well as part of the Damascus district of Jobar.
It has fought alongside Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which includes jihadists formerly linked to Al-Qaeda.
Since Eastern Ghouta first fell under regime siege in 2013, rebels have been using tunnels and smuggling routes to bring supplies in.
That means they also “actively and systematically profiteered from the siege,” said Will Todman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Rebel groups had developed bureaucratic systems to control the smuggling, charging fixed rates for certain goods to come in, and requiring smugglers to submit application forms to operate,” he told AFP.
They also stand accused of hoarding supplies and unfairly controlling aid distribution for profit.
In 2017, government troops totally sealed off Eastern Ghouta, destroying smuggling routes and granting less access to aid groups.
The situation has grown increasingly dire since then, with hundreds in desperate need of medical evacuations and others facing severe malnutrition.
‘Permanent’ solution
In May 2017, Eastern Ghouta was designated a “de-escalation zone” in an effort to still the violence, but Assad’s regime now seems more determined than ever to capture it.
The government wants to secure the capital and put a halt to the salvo of rockets and mortars rebels launch from Eastern Ghouta onto Damascus.
The regime pounded the area heavily for five days earlier this month and resumed bombing on Sunday, leaving a total of almost 450 civilians dead.
Sam Heller, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the regime was looking to “resolve the issue of Eastern Ghouta permanently — either with a military victory or through a negotiated settlement under military pressure.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday hinted Syria was executing that very strategy in Eastern Ghouta.
“The Aleppo experience — when the evacuation of fighters was organized — is completely applicable to Eastern Ghouta,” Lavrov said.
CSIS’s Todman says that could happen in Eastern Ghouta, too.
“Rebels won’t be able to hold out indefinitely –- several months or a year from now, I wouldn’t be surprised if some kind of evacuation deal was agreed for at least parts of the Eastern Ghouta, although some rebel factions will likely fight to the bitter end,” he said.
But Ghouta resident Abu Zeid, 32, expects the regime is hungry for total conquest, not a deal.
“I don’t think the rebels’ withdrawal will resolve the issue. The regime’s essential problem is with the people,” he said.

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter the (*) required information where indicated.Basic HTML code is allowed.






Life Style




Unit 102, 1020 Bel-Air apartment, Roxas Blvd, Ermita, Manila Copyright 2000-2017 All rights reserved, The Daily Tribune Publishing Inc.