Syria’s Assad regime refuses ceasefire as the humanitarian crisis in Eastern Ghouta worsens. On Sunday, March 4, President Assad announced he will continue his military offensive against rebel-held enclave, Eastern Ghouta, despite the United Nations’ accusations it is causing an exasperating humanitarian crisis. President Assad justifies his military offensive by claiming to oust the “terrorists” in the area and protect the civilians from their rule.
Eastern Ghouta is controlled mainly by Jaysh Al Islam, a coalition of Islamist and Salafist units, however, a jihadist alliance led by al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in Syria also has a presence there. President Assad’s announcement of his continued military offensive in the region comes after 15 days of airstrikes on the rebels that have killed over 600 civilians in the area. The regime claims it will continue its advancement into the region where 400,000 civilians live. The regime has taken control of 25 percent of the rebel-held territory, but done so at the denouncement of the international community. Their goal is to continue a few kilometres to reach Douma and split the enclave in two.
The constant military action in the region is causing thousands of residents to leave their homes and flee to the less violent areas west of Eastern Ghouta. According to a surgeon Hamza Hassan based in Ibrin “there is massive internal displacement of 30,000 people from [the areas of] Beit Sawa, Otaya, the Douma villages.” The government has only allowed a single aid group into the region since November. It recently denied the United Nations attempt to bring 46 trucks full of supplies to the region that would provide aid to tens of thousands of civilians. There are extreme shortages and inflated prices. Around 11.9% of children under the age of five years are extremely malnourished. This is the highest rate recorded in the region since the beginning of the Syrian war. Furthermore, high inflation has caused a bundle of bread to cost almost 22 times the national average due to the lack of supplies. The crisis has caused most people to live in bomb shelters in their basement with lack of food, sanitation, and safety. Malnutrition has skyrocketed as civilians report cutting down meal sizes and going days without eating. Furthermore, the lack of water and sanitation means people are living among waste and the spread of disease threatens more lives. Local insurgent groups have denounced the Assad regime for their “scorched earth” campaign of Eastern Ghouta.
The United Nations has condemned the Assad regime’s military offensives in the region, saying that the “collective punishment of civilians is simply unacceptable.” It has demanded a 30-day ceasefire in the region, unanimously agreed on by all members of the security council, including Russia, the Assad regime’s leading supporter. Moscow even demanded a daily five-hour ceasefire for humanitarian aid. However, the Assad Regime has disregarded both demands and continues to push farther into Eastern Ghouta. Furthermore, in a call between French President Emmanuel Macron and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, President Macron asked for President Rouhani to put pressure on the Syrian forces to stop attacks in Eastern Ghouta. Iran is another primary supporter of the Assad regime. Macron and Rouhani agreed they will work together to provide relief and aid to the civilians in the region in the coming weeks.
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