“We are standing before the massacre of the 21st century. If the massacre of the 1990s was Srebrenica, and the massacres of the 1980s were Halabja and Sabra and Shatila, then eastern Ghouta is the massacre of this century right now.”
These are the words of a doctor in Ghouta which has seen some of the worst atrocities being committed in the years-long war in Syria. Images continue to beam around the world of the massacre of Ghouta, such images have now become an almost regular occurrence. In the last week Al-Assad’s regime, with Russian support, began pounding Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, with artillery, air strikes and barrel bombs. Hundreds of people have already been killed.
Ghouta has become the latest location of what is a familiar strategy to subdue the demands for real change and to maintain the regime in Damascus.
Ghouta was a densely populated agricultural district on the outskirts of Damascus with a population of 2 million prior to the uprising. The suburb was a mere 30-minute drive from central Damascus, the seat of the regime.
When the uprising began in 2011 Ghouta was one of the first areas around Damascus where widespread demonstrations took place. It eventually became a base for the rebel groups, which resulted in the regime to send in troops due to its close proximity to the capital. Despite this, the suburb held out against the onslaught. By 2012 Al-Assad’s forces were expelled, a group of suburbs on the eastern edge of Damascus also came into rebel hands and some began speaking about capturing the Syrian capital.
The regime responded in a ferocious manner.
On 21st August 2013, government forces bombarded Eastern Ghouta killing more than 1500 men, women and children. This attack was different to others. Doctors had grown used to treating trauma and conflict wounds. But the overwhelmed medical staff didn’t know how to treat these patients with no visible signs of injury.
Entire families laid dead in their beds, with dark rings around their mouths and eyes. Those that were alive had their faces contorted in pain. Children dropped like flies in front of the medical staff as they were brought in from the attack.
Bashar Al-Assad had just carried out his first chemical attack, using Sarin gas, a chemical agent that targets the central nervous system.
With the help of Hezbollah and Iran, Al-Assad sealed the suburb from others and began what would eventually become a year’s long siege to strangle the population to death. Eastern Ghouta is now the longest siege in modern history.
Military control of Eastern Ghouta was mainly divided between two rebel groups: the Saudi and Qatar backed Jaish Al-Islam and Failaq Al-Rahman. Like many of the rebel groups that were supplied by foreign powers, they were never given weapons that would make a difference in the battle. Saudi Arabia never provided the surface-to-air missiles that would have shifted the battle against the Russian and regime air attacks. Instead, as the regime siege went on both Saudi Arabia and Qatar abandoned the rebel groups and the people of Ghouta. This became a familiar pattern across the country where rebel groups were armed. Many in Ghouta came to believe these nations were really on the side of the regime all along.
Eastern Ghouta eventually became part of the de-escalation zones as the siege had trapped the inhabitants of the suburb. But despite the announcements of ceasefires and de-escalation agreements, Al-Assad’s regime continued to carry out ground and air attacks against civilian targets in Eastern Ghouta. Even with checkpoints and observation posts, Al-Assad’s regime bombardment of civilians continued.
As Al-Assad’s regime mops up what it considers the last pockets of resistance, the Muslim rulers in the region have once again shown their true colours.
Erdogan has shown that he will only move his army when the Kurds are in question; the people of Aleppo and Ghouta are not deserving of military intervention. Qatar and Saudi Arabia only arm rebel groups when it serves the US agenda, not when they are being massacred. These monarchs and rulers are only interested in maintaining their own thrones, despite their rhetoric of one Ummah.
The militaries of the Muslim lands need to move to stop the massacre taking place in Ghouta and Syria generally. It is them who have the most capability and the greatest responsibility to answer the cries of the innocents who are being slaughtered in their hundreds by the day.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اسْتَجِيبُوا لِلَّهِ وَلِلرَّسُولِ إِذَا دَعَاكُمْ لِمَا يُحْيِيكُمْ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ يَحُولُ بَيْنَ الْمَرْءِ وَقَلْبِهِ وَأَنَّهُ إِلَيْهِ تُحْشَرُونَ
“O you who have believed, respond to Allah and to the Messenger when he calls you to that which gives you life. And know that Allah intervenes between a man and his heart and that to Him you will be gathered.” [Al-Anfal: 24]