Over 350,000 Civilians are still Living under Siege Despite the De-Escalation Agreement with Russia
Source: AFP/Amer ALMOHIBANY
SNHR has noted in its report, released today and entitled: “Damascus’s Eastern Ghouta Siege is a Form of Collective Punishment” that over 350,000 civilians are still living under siege despite the de-escalation agreement with Russia.
The report also notes that Syrian regime forces has been imposing a partial siege in the region of Eastern Ghouta, Damascus suburbs since October 19, 2012. That is, until October 19, 2013, as the siege expanded and encompassed almost the entirety of Eastern Ghouta. According to the report, in early-2015, it was recorded that some food supplies have entered limited areas in Eastern Ghouta via “al Wafideen Camp” crossing following an agreement that was struck between the Syrian regime and armed opposition factions. Additionally, some goods and food supplies get smuggled into Eastern Ghouta via tunnels that connects the region with al Qaboun, Barza, and Tishreen neighborhoods in eastern Damascus city.
The report says that al Wafideen crossing was shut down at the end of March 2017, and Syrian regime forces seized the tunnels following the offensive on al Qaboun and Tishreen neighborhoods in February 2017, effectively tightening, as the report notes, the grip of the suffocating siege on over 350,000 civilians, as food supplies prices rose and medical supplies became scarcer.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, chairman of SNHR, says:
“It is not only that the Syrian regime used siege as a mean of warfare, but the siege is now beyond military necessities and their proportions, as the siege has turned into a matter of starving and restricting civilians. Its cost is higher than any anticipated military objective, and has become a form of collective punishment that denied civilians basic services and food.”
The report documents that no less than 397 civilians, including 206 children and 67 women, have died due to starvation and medication shortage particularly between the start of the siege in Eastern Ghouta in October 2012 and October 22, 2017. The report points out that most deaths were among vulnerable groups such as infants, elders, sick people, and the wounded.
The report primarily draws upon field visits conducted by a SNHR researcher who contacted local activists who work in the fields of relief and local services, in addition to a number of affected families.
The report notes that the siege continues despite Eastern Ghouta de-escalation agreement that was struck on July 22, 2017, between armed opposition factions and Russian forces under an Egyptian sponsorship which provided that relief convoys would enter Eastern Ghouta and also for the start of the wounded evacuation process. According to the report, only four convoys have entered that included some food baskets and medical supplies 24. It is should be noted that these convoys only cover 25% of the needs of the residents who started live under a severe food and medication shortage – especially cancer patients who the report estimates at 543 patients. Out of those seven patients have died, including four children and one woman, since the crossing was shut down in March 2017 due to the lack of enough medication for their treatment.
The report stresses that killing and destruction continued in parallel with the starvation policy, as four massacres and 23 attacks on vital civilian facilities, including on four medical facilities, by Syrian-Russian alliances forces have been recorded between July 22, 2017 and October 22, 2017.
The report notes that the violations that were recorded clearly suggest that the Syrian-Iranian alliance intends to doom any de-escalation agreement, and is working avidly to submit the Syrian people into surrendering and acknowledging the legitimacy of the Syrian regime and its Iranian ally, who would, consequently, take full control of Syria. And to seek to shatter Astana Agreements, as the sponsoring Russian side has failed to bind the Syrian regime to commit to deliver aids and evacuate the wounded, which was one of the most basic demands.
The report stresses that Syrian regime forces have systematically and deliberately imposed a siege against another party in the non-international armed conflict beyond any medical necessity or its proportion. And instead of facilitating relief aids, Syrian regime forces have banned them. Furthermore, Syrian regime forces have heavily bombed besieged areas, and barred civilians from leaving, forcing them to live in inhumane conditions under the threat of death – either from starving in light of the food and medication shortages, or by shelling. This constitutes a war crime according to the international humanitarian law.
According to the report, the Syrian regime aims, through the siege it imposed on the residents of Eastern Ghouta, to drive them to a state of complete drain, which will force them to accept any settlements and displace from the area – same as what happened in eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, Darayya city in Damascus suburbs, al Wa’er neighborhood, Homs city, and other areas.
The report calls on the Security Council to implement the resolutions pertaining to deliver humanitarian aids and lift the siege – 2139, 2165, 2191, 2254, and 2258 – in an effective and steady manner.
In addition, the report calls on the international community to uphold its financial obligations that were promised for the sake of aiding the Syrian people. Eastern Ghouta is one of the most affected areas in Syria, while the report emphasizes that immediate support should be provided for the working local relief and medical organization in coordination with the regional office of the World Health Organization.
Moreover, the report calls on the Russian regime, as a sponsoring party to the de-escalation agreement in Eastern Ghouta, as well as Astana Agreements, to apply pressure on the Syrian-Iranian alliance to commit to the provisions of the de-escalation agreement, and deliver sufficient food and medical supplies and start evacuating the sick and the wounded.
The report stresses that the UN special envoy to Syria should explicitly condemn the perpetrators of siege and massacre, as they were the main reason for dooming the de-escalation agreements and shattering any progress in the political transitions.