This week, Syrian government-led airstrikes in the rebel-held suburb of Eastern Ghouta killed an estimated 500 civilians. On Saturday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria to deliver humanitarian aid and evacuate the wounded. Ann Barnard of the New York Times joins Hari Sreenivasan from Beirut via Skype for more.
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A new wave of Syrian government airstrikes on a rebel held suburb of Damascus killed at least 22 people. It’s just the latest in a week long bombardment targeting Eastern Ghouta. Human Rights Monitors say the airstrikes are coming from both Syrian and Russian aircraft. They estimate 500 civilians including 200 women and children have been killed this week alone. Today, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution calling for a 30-day humanitarian ceasefire in Syria with the support of Syrian ally, Russia. Several previous ceasefires have failed over the years long conflict. For more on the situation in Syria, we’re joined by Ann Bernard of The New York Times who joins us via Skype from Beirut. Let’s put this in context. 500 people killed in just the span of a week. I mean these are just rough estimates but what what is responsible for this surge of violence?
Well, mainly right now the government is trying to take over the last couple of large rebel held area and one of them is East Ghouta, which is just to the east of Damascus. It’s really adjacent to the capital city in the suburbs, a collection of sort of concrete locked buildings in agricultural fields. Right now, the bombardments in a sense are just a more intense version of what’s been going on year after year after year. The besieged area, the people can’t get out of, and the government hasnt really been able to advance much on the ground up to now. So the strategy is just to bomb the area and try to force a surrender.
Now you mentioned a phrase it’s important that people can’t necessarily get out of, because a lot of folks are going to wonder if there is such strife going on, why don’t people leave? How are people actually maintaining some semblance of life in this suburb?
I mean the main reason they can’t leave is because they physically cannot get out. This area has been surrounded by the government for years. And the siege boundary was tightened in recent months because the government took over an area where there had been an outlet for tunnels that were used for smuggling. There still wasn’t exactly free movement in and out back then. You know, the war economy was such that people on both sides would profit from food and people coming and going and it was really expensive for ordinary people. That said, there was technically a way to get out if you wanted to but now even that has become much more difficult and much more expensive. And then there’s a second reason, which is that the government has tended to treat anyone from these areas as suspect, and anyone who has a file against them with the government let’s say they’ve been a civilian activist or a fighter, even doctors who treat people on the rebel held side or even civilians in the rebel held areas, are considered criminals and terrorists by the government. So there are peopl,e who if they enter government held areas they are concerned that they will be arrested and sent to the security detention centers where there is torture and all kinds of things that they don’t want to be involved in.
How are people carrying on their lives there? I mean, some of the descriptions you have and some of the photographs it seems that a lot of it is literally underground?
Well it depends on the area, in some areas people are have basements in their buildings or there are tunnels that have been dug that they can stay underground shelters. In other areas there are not. So there was a town few days ago where 43 people were killed in an airstrike because they were heavily in a in a basement that wasn’t really built to shelter people. And there is other areas where people just don’t have somewhere to go underground.
All right, Ann Barnard of The New York Times joining us via Skype from Beirut. Thanks so much.
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